I don’t know what I love about Stephen Strasburg’s first start more: that he was nasty and essentially only threw one bad pitch or that he earnestly answered “60 feet, six inches” when Nationals manager Jim Riggelman asked him how far it was from the mound to the plate in the minors. Riggelman then responded with the Hoosiers-esque “You’ve got a good chance — because that’s what it is here too.”
I would never have known that had I not read ESPN’s game recap after the Nationals’ bullpen managed to not screw up the Bryce Harper of pitching’s debut with the big-league club, but I love that Riggelman broke out the theatrics.
Whatever he did, it freaking worked because Strasburg was as good as a major-league pitcher can be. Seven innings, four hits and two earned runs won’t get him to the hall of fame, but the 14/0 strikeout to walk ratio on the night will probably make the stat-heads break out the Astro-Glide.
The hanging changeup that led to the two-run homer by the Pirates’ Delwyn Young is pretty much the only bad pitch he threw all night. I should know because I sat through seven innings of Nationals/Pirates baseball, so as exciting as Strasburg’s start was, I’m still wondering if I wasted my night. Yeah, I think I did.
In any case, the hyperbole is going to flow like Lil Wayne after receiving a lifetime supply of cough syrup and Sprite, which means I’m going to avoid singing Strasburg’s praises too much. After all, it was only his first start. And even though it seems like a perfect cap to his night, Strasburg’s last strikeout in the seventh inning was anticlimax at its finest because everyone in the building knew he was done. A normal pitcher on a normal day staysout there if he’s as hot as Strasburg was, but everyone knew he was at a 90-pitch maximum, so his 94th pitch was absolutely his last.
Still, that was a fun way to kill a couple of hours, and here’s what I learned:
- Stephen Strasburg is going to be unhittable in next year’s MLB video game, whatever it’s called. He throws 97 and above with the same effort Jamie Moyer uses to make it to 79. The curve is ridiculous and his changeup is faster than Brandon Webb’s sinker and moves nearly as much.
- If Riggelman channeled Norman Dale, then Pudge broke out the Crash Davis, “I wouldn’t dig in there too deep if I were you. I don’t know where it’s going.” The Pirates were completely befuddled and swung and missed at a ton of pitches out of the zone. The Yankees would have gone up there taking pitches and making Strasburg use up his pitch count early. The Pirates, God love ‘em, went up there hacking even though Strasburg was consistently missing his spots.
- Strasburg doesn’t like being “effectively wild.” You could tell he was pissed off at himself for missing so many locations with his pitches. He knew he was in good hands with Pudge back there and he missed way, way too much and didn’t seem happy about it. A very good sign for the future.
- John Smoltz, like Al Leiter before him, is a fantastic color guy. He knew the game, knew exactly what Strasburg was going through from inning to inning, and even knew the historical context of his start. When the inevitable Kerry Wood comparisons came up relating to overuse of young pitchers, Smoltz smartly, and correctly, mentioned that Wood’s mechanics were crappy to begin with, so overuse wasn’t necessarily the biggest issue there.
- If Strasburg does this again in his second start, he’s going to be the most famous/popular resident of the DC area. Bar none.