This Week in Baseball: Stephen Strasburg

Normally, this article would be dedicated to the happenings of the week. However, since I had the opportunity to see Strasburg live, I figured we would tun it into an in depth talk about the most-talked-about pitcher in the majors the last few weeks.

A National Treasure

12 hours ago, I was walking into Progressive Field in Cleveland. The first thing I noticed was that there were about twice as many people as usual, something that bodes very well for a team struggling to get people in the seats. Maybe the fans had noticed that the Tribe had won 4 straight. Maybe it was something else. So I walked in and made my way to the team shop since it had been forever since I visited my team at home (the Indians). I am walking up to it and there were a bunch of people standing outside it seemingly enjoying the weather. Nope, they were in line to get into the team store. The Indians are last in attendance and have a 30 person line to get into the team shop? Something must be up. So I wait in line, and get in after a couple minutes. It is a nice shop and I start heading through the store when I see it. Stephen Strasburg Player Tees. Yes, in Cleveland. If that is not Strasburg-mania, I do not know what is. Not only was there a rack in a central location full of Nats gear, but it was flying off the shelves. While waiting in a line of about 60 people to check out, I looked around and saw about half the people holding a Strasburg shirt, even the ones with an Indians hat or any other team. This is nuts.

11 hours ago, I was sitting in my seat down the right field line wondering what I was going to see out of the rookie flamethrower. I did not know if I was going to see him once again blow away a mediocre lineup with superhuman stuff, or if I was going to see a rookie look like a rookie. I knew he had already changed the culture around the Nationals just judging by how many Nats hats and jerseys I saw around. but I did not know what I was going to see on the day. A few hours later, I knew what we already thought. Stephen Strasburg is for real. I am not calling him the best pitcher in baseball, or saying he will win the NL Cy Young, but Strasburg has all the talent in the world and as long as he stays healthy he will be a staple in Cy Young conversations for a long time. Snap judgment you say? Allow me to explain.

1st Inning

The first round pick takes the mound in the top of the first and the crowd is barely attentive. That is because that first round pick is David Huff, a man who no one was there to see. 1-2-3 inning. Now for the fun part.

Strasburg takes the mound and all 32,879 fans (avg attendance at Progressive Field this year is 16,023) are waiting anxiously to see what the kid has got. He starts off by fanning Trevor Crowe and Shin-Soo Choo. Looks like he picked up where he left off. Then Carlos Santana comes up (more on him in a bit) and hits a ball hard, but Josh Willingham gets under it. 3 out, everything looking good for Strasburg.

2nd Inning

Dunn pound a double down the line and Huff is looking more like we were expecting. However, Huff looks ready to sneak out unscathed but Morse gets him in with a hit down the first base line scoring Dunn and giving Strasburg a lead. Don’t worry we will not be talking about Huff too much, it just serves to set the scene.

Strasburg comes in with the lead, and gives it back immediately to Travis Hafner. Hafner hits a shot down the right field line and it leaves in a hurry to tie the score. How will Strasburg respond this time? Last time he struck out 8 of the next 10, but what about this time? He gets Kearns to weakly fly out and then fans Branyan and Peralta. He is mentally unbreakable.

3rd Inning

Huff gets the Nationals to go down fairly quietly and Strasburg gets back out there to face the bottom of the order. Lots of people talk about the DH in the AL making the bottom of the order tougher since everyone gets slid down a slot. However, when you have a regular player in Luis Valbuena who was hitting 1.69 entering the game, followed by a rookie shortstop in Anderson Hernandez and you have all the makings of a weak bottom of the lineup. Yup, Straasburg sits em down 1-2-3, though none were by strikeout. They were all weak groundballs that did not even threaten the outfield.

4th Inning

It's a shame Johan Santana took the nickname "Supernatural" because this Santana fits it even better name-wise.

Dunn goes yard and the Nats regain the lead, but Huff is still looking pretty respectable.

Strasburg gets back up there and strikes out Choo, pushing his K total to 5. Then, the unthinkable happens. Carlos Santana has a nice at bat and works a walk. First one of Strasburg’s career. Just watching him, you can tell he doesn’t have his A stuff today, but he has given up two hard hit balls through 3+ innings, and everything else has been a strikeout or laughably easy for the defense. The control problems might have stemmed from a somewhat faulty mount in Cleveland, but the point was that he did not have his top stuff today, especially when it came to controlling it.

Once again facing adversity, in the form of a little lack of control, let’s see what Strasburg does. He walked Hafner too. Uh oh, he is in trouble. Just kidding, he reaches back and blows Kearns and Branyan away. Even when things are not going his way, and he doesn’t have his top notch stuff, he is killing people out there.

5th Inning

Huff gets chased after a Nats surge and he is done. Frankly, so are the Indians at this point given their offense. We are done talking Tribe members not named Santana.

Strasburg gets back out there, and is still sliding around a little on the rubber. He gets Choo to fly out weakly to center, and up comes the youngster Carlos Santana. He has been compared to former Indians backstop Victor Martinez because he has excellent power, and is a switch-hitting catcher who is going to be in the majors for a long time by all accounts. Santana is hitting lefty today against Strasburg and luck is on his side. He gets a bloop single to drop in just over Guzman’s reach, putting Santana on base for the second time today, and giving the Indians their second hit. Yeah, it is easy to forget that up until this bloop single, Strasburg’s only hit was Hafner’s home run. Strasburg then walks Hafner, and after getting the mound fixed, walks Kearns. Bases loaded, 1 out. That is it for Strasburg. Just like that, he is out and Drew Storen, another young arm you should remember, is in. The Indians revert back to their old form and somehow fail to score with the bases loaded and 1 out, getting Strasburg and the Nats out of the inning safely.

The Nats went on to win 9-4. Let’s talk Strasburg.

5.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 8Ks, 5 BB

Obviously, the innings pitched and walks stick out like a sore thumb, but so do the 2 hits. That is still a pretty good start by almost any measure, and while it was not as good as his debut, it was, in a way, even more assuring that he has what it takes.

Today, Strasburg did not have his best stuff, and still stifled a lineup that is short on quality, but has been playing and hitting well as of late. His command was not what it could be, but he battled and did his job really pretty well. He still had an impressive 8 Ks, but the most impressive thing to me was what he was doing when he wasn’t striking people out. I mentioned in the game diary that Hafner’s home run marked the second hard hit ball in a row that Strasburg had given up. For the rest of his start, no one hit him hard. Think about that. Sometimes you get unlucky and someone bloops one in there, and sometimes you are giving up line drives all over, but they are right at people, but Strasburg was not getting hit hard at all. When he put the ball where he wanted, no one touched him. Maybe it was because he is throwing 99 mph and it has downward movement with a curveball that should be X-rated it is so dirty and a changeup that could befuddle the best hitters in baseball. He was not getting lucky out there, in fact, with the condition of the mound and his control, you could say he was getting a little unlucky, and yet he was sitting down Indians. He really had to work today, but he did the work and came out of there with a win and a pretty dominating performance. It does not show up in the box score quite like it did on the field, but Stephen Strasburg was amazing today, even with his control problems.

Both Mike Rizzo, and his exquisite mustache have got to be thrilled with the Strasburg Effect.

Most strike out pitchers, especially the young ones, follow a certain trend. They are great when they are on, but when they are off, they become pop-out pitchers and pitchers that give up way too many walks. It forces their pitch count up as the walks pile up, and it makes their ERA up when some of those flyouts turn into home runs. That was not Stephen Strasburg today. He struggled with command, and his pitch count did go up as a result, but he was getting weak grounder after weak grounder with a few weak popups mixed in. It was almost as impressive as the strikeouts because it was a look at what Strasburg looks like when he is struggling. If that is indeed that case as it looked like, Strasburg gets a lot of weak contact and is still nearly unhittable on his bad days. Yikes.

Ever heard the saying “We are not judged on when things are going well; we are judged on when things are not doing well”? It is a quote relating to character, and today Stepehn Strasburg showed me that, He was not at his best by any stretch of the imagination, and yet he was still better. I am not comparing him toNolan Ryan, like Pudge Rodriguez did in spring training, nor am I going to say he is just Kerry Wood and an elbow injury waiting to happen. He has not done a ton yet as a major leaguer because he has only made two starts and only time will tell how he turns out. But I will tell you that what I saw today confirmed that he has everything he needs to become a Cy Young quality pitcher. He may blow out his elbow and end up closing for the Tribe like Kerry Wood, or he may end up having a long and fruitful career. I don’t know.

All I know is that he is for real, and if nothing goes wrong, he is going to be dazzling us for years to come.

Trends

There are just a few trends I have noticed in watching Strasburg I felt like noting. It is too early to tell if these will end up problems for him, but they are worth noting. I will skip being eloquent and just list them ebcause at this point they are not a narrative about his career, just a few observations.

Strasburg has given up home runs in both his starts. Could the longball be his weakness? Time will tell.
Both the home runs, and 4 of his 6 hits allowed (admittedly 1 away form being 50-50) have been given up to lefties.
Strasburg throws 99 with sinking action. I know this is pretty obvious, but I felt like it should be listed on there because it is frigthening.
Strasburg got a phenomenal number of groundballs in th eminors when he did not strikeout, and it looks like he might end up nearly replicating those numbers in the majors. If he does, that is scary because it both gives him a shot at double plays, and it will mean fewer extra base hits and a safe start.
Strasburg has responded well wto adversity on the mound. He annihilated the Pirates after their home run, and didn’t let the Indians hit the ball hard after Hafner’s home run.
He has what it takes to be really really good.

Other Things Not Relating to Strasburg in List Form

The braves are in first.

The Yankees are in a tie for first as the Blue Jays hang in there.

The Dodgers are playing very well as the Padres maintain a slim lead out west.

Sorry, that is all the detail you are getting on that as we hit our 2000 word limit a while ago. Enjoy your week of baseball, and we will be back with non-Strasburg news this Friday.

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