General : : Professional
Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Strasburg Looks Good in Debut for Nationals

Jim Ecker        
Nobody asked Stephen Strasburg to send his jersey to Cooperstown, at least not yet. Heck, nobody even said if he'll make the opening-day roster for the Washington Nationals or not.

It was only two innings, a spring training game, before only 4,305 fans. But if first impressions are important, Strasburg got off to a good start with the Nationals Tuesday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.

Strasburg, the $15.1 million phenom with the golden arm, tossed two scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers in his spring-training debut for Washington and definitely showed what he can do.

Strasburg, just 21, fanned Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera with a 98 mph fastball. Later, he froze Brent Dlugach with an 81 mph curveball for another strikeout. He threw 27 pitches, including 15 for strikes, and allowed just two soft singles before calling it a day.

"That kid is good. Wow," said former Major League pitcher Rod Dibble, one of the commentators for Tuesday's game on the MLB Network. "The future is now."

Strasburg, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander, was the No.1 pick in the 2009 draft after his stellar All-America career at San Diego State, where he flashed 100 mph heaters and dominated college hitters. He's in the pros now, but the early results were about the same.

"I was excited to get out there and face some big-league hitters and see what I have," he said during a television interview.

He's got a blazing fastball, a knee-buckling curve, a sharp slider and a changeup. Washington Manager Jim Riggleman, perhaps suppressing a smile, thought Strasburg looked good in his first outing this spring.

"Real good," said Riggleman. "I thought the ball was coming out of his hand cleanly. I know he had a lot of butterflies before the game and I'm sure he felt that a little bit out there."

If that's how Strasburg pitches when he's nervous, major league batters might be in trouble when he settles down.

Strasburg retired the side with three ground balls in the first inning, needing only seven pitches to get three outs.

"That first inning was a terrific inning for me, much more impressive than a strikeout," Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said during the telecast. "That's an economical inning and will keep this guy on the mound into the seventh and eighth innings."

Strasburg was limited Tuesday to 40 pitchers or two innings, whichever came first. He breezed through the first inning and retired the first two batters in the second before allowing a pair of singles, then finished the frame with that nasty curve on a 3-2 pitch to Dlugach.

"I was definitely ready to throw a 3-2 breaking ball there," he said.

Strasburg sounded happy with his performance.

"I was just trying to go out there and pound the strike zone," he said. "Obviously I was very excited about getting this thing going. I just wanted to get out there and get my feet wet."

The Nationals are taking it slow and easy with Strasburg. They haven't said if he'll make the 25-man roster or not, not wanting to rush their $15.1 million investment, but he looked like a big-league pitcher on Tuesday.

"I've learned so much already, and I'm looking forward to getting out on the mound again," he said.

So are the Nationals. "The uniqueness about Stephen Strasburg," said Rizzo, the team's general manager, "he's a big-arm guy who has the dexterity to pitch."

Strasburg wasn't the only Perfect Game alum who looked good in Tuesday's game. Austin Jackson, traded from the Yankees to the Tigers during the offseason, went 2-for-4 with a double and home run to deep center. Jackson, a young center fielder, was Detroit's leadoff hitter and was retired on a groundball in his only at-bat against Strasburg.
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