It took just two pitches, both 99mph fastballs, one outside and high and the next in on Mets' center fielder Angel Pagan's fists, (according to MLB.com's GameDay Pitch-by-Pitch tracker), for Washington Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg to record the first out of his sixth start this past Saturday against the New York Mets. (2 pitches). Strasburg started the second batter he faced, veteran infielder Alex Cora, with a triple-digit fastball that Gameday has as a low strike, but home plate umpire Scott Barry said was inside. A 99mph fastball outside and low caught the corner of the zone for a 1-1 count and Strasburg followed up with three-straight 99mph fastballs outside to walk just the eighth batter he's given a free pass to in what was then his thirty-first inning on the mound. (7 pitches).
David Wright took two brutal curves (83, 84mph) for called strikes and took a 91mph change low and outside for ball one before fouling off a change inside, 1-2 count. Wright then K'd swinging through a 1-2 fastball up high and outside at 98mph for the second out of the inning. (12 pitches). Alex Cora stole second with Mets' first baseman Ike Davis at bat, and Davis battled Strasburg for 6 pitches, 2 fastballs at 98 and 4 changeups, one that dove under Davis' bat for a swinging strike and then three in a row outside and low for a two-out walk. (18 pitches).
Two 98mph fastballs, one high and inside and the next in on the fists were both called balls, but Strasburg got the first strike from Jason Bay with a 99mph fastball inside that the Mets' left fielder swung at and missed. The Nats' starter then threw a 2-1 change that stayed up in the zone and Bay lined it to right for an RBI double hat scored Alex Cora for an early 1-0 NY lead. (22 pitches). Mets' catcher Josh Thole worked a 10-pitch walk out of Strasburg, taking four pitches: two high heaters outside, one belt high for a called strike and one way outside before fouling off five-straight pitches, four fastballs and one change, before Strasburg missed with a full-count fastball that got away from him outside. (32 pitches).
Jeff Francouer missed a belt-high 99mph fastball inside and took an 0-1 curve for a called strike, but Strasburg missed way outside with a curve and threw a 98mph fastball that sailed over Frenchy's head and hit his bat before he could get it out of the way. Foul ball. 1-2 count and a curve inside gets a fly ball to center to finally end the top of the first. 1-0 Mets. (37 pitches). 7 batters, 1 double, 3 walks, 1 ER allowed, 20 strikes, 17 balls (by most counts), 24 fastballs, 8 changeups, 5 curves....
After the game, the 21-year-old pitcher was asked whether or not he was aware of the fact that Miguel Batista had started warming up while he struggled to finish the first. "Why would I be looking in the bullpen in the first inning?" Strasburg asked incredulously, not necessarily in a rude way, but with the sort of confidence that said he never considered for a moment that he would be lifted that early. "No, I didn't realize that, no," Strasburg responded. What the young starter didn't know, or at least didn't seem to know, was that moments earlier the Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman had been asked a similar question about whether the rough start by Strasburg had caused him much concern:
Jim Riggleman: "...you probably noticed I had [Nats' reliever Miguel] Batista up in the first inning. I did not want [Strasburg] to throw 45 pitches in the first inning and that would have...I probably would have gotten him out of there. I was going to let him to go through R.A. Dickey, their pitcher, I was going to let him go through there, and then if we didn't get the third out I would have gotten him out of there."
Francoeur was the seventh Met to bat in the first, NY knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was only one batter away, and the Nats' right-hander, who struggled to locate his fastball early, was closer than he thought to an early exit. Instead he stayed on, retiring the Mets in order in the second, and giving up a run on three singles in the third before retiring seven-straight Mets in the fourth and fifth to hold the Nats close at 2-0 after five when he was replaced by fellow '09 1st Round pick Drew Storen.
Jim Riggleman: "Stras was really battling it out there, and it's really a credit to him to kind of fight himself a little bit with some pitches and keep us in the game...[Strasburg] gave up one run in two separate innings, and that's huge. When you're fighting yourself a little bit and you're able to just put a one up there that's pretty good."
• Strasburg's final line in his 6th start: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K's, 96 pitches, 64 strikes, 6 groundouts, 4 flyouts.
Strasburg: "...I'm starting to figure out what guys are trying to do against me. It's good to see that because every time I make a mistake and don't really get hurt by it, I'm not going to realize the mistake that I made. I learned a few things today, and like I said, it was just a great win for the guys and hopefully next time around I can pitch a little bit better."
ESPN.com's Buster Olney provided some insight into what opposing hitters are thinking when they face the Nats' right-handed ace in an article yesterday entitled, "Patience a virtue (sometimes) vs. Strasburg", in which he quotes an anonymous opponent who says that you just need to, "'Wait [Strasburg] out,'":
"'Did you see all those pitches he threw on strike three? They were all out of the strike zone. He doesn't throw strikes when he's ahead in the count.'"
"The New York hitters were patient in the first inning," Mr. Olney writes, "...as Strasburg labored to command his fastball, and they ran up his pitch count early and got him out of the game after five innings." It's a game of adjustments at the major league level. Strasburg's still in his first trip around the league and the book is being written on him by opposing teams and scouts with every pitch he throws and situation he faces, how he adjusts his approach with the help of veteran Nats' backstop Pudge Rodriguez and pitching coach Steve McCatty will determine how successful he is the second and third time around the league. A (2-2) record in 6 starts and 36.2 IP in which he's K'd 13.01 K/9 while walking 2.45 BB/9 and posting a 2.45 ERA, 1.77 FIP, 1.06 WHIP and +1.6 WAR value is a pretty good start for the 21-year-old right-hander...