So maybe Los Angeles Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly wasn't impressed, telling reporters including Washington Times' writer Nathan Fenno (@NathanFenno), "'The kid's got a good arm but we see good arms all the time. He's not all that different,'" but Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson liked what he saw from Stephen Strasburg last night.
"[Strasburg] was special. It was nice seeing him back," Johnson said. "He looked very relaxed, a couple times he let it loose on some strikeouts, but it was really very pitch efficient. What did he end up with? [56 pitches]. It was unbelieveable. It's going to be hard next time out. I think the way he's throwing, 70-80 pitches is probably within his range easy."
The fact that Strasburg looked as good as he did, throwing first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 17 batters he faced, retiring eleven straight batters between Dee Gordon's leadoff double in the first and the only other hit he allowed, Juan Rivera's two-out single in the fourth, and averaging just a little over eleven pitches per inning, didn't surprise the Nats' manager. "I've never seen him any other way," Johnson said, "He doesn't look like he's making a whole lot of effort and 96 mph on the knees, on the corners. He threw some good breaking balls, had an outstanding changeup, 90 mph changeup, that's almost unhittable. He was just impressive."
"It felt good," Strasburg told reporters after the game, "It was a long time coming, a lot of hard work, and it's good to be back out there contributing."
"I just wanted to go out there and try to throw strikes, get ahead of guys," the right hander continued, "and they went up there hacking so I got some quick outs and kept the pitch count down."
Strasburg's MLB debut last June took place in front of over 40,000 fans. The paid attendance last night was 29,092, but the weather reports and the possibility of a delay resulted in far fewer fans showing up for the game, but that didn't make a difference to Strasburg, who said, "I went out there on a mission and it doesn't really matter how many people are in the stands," though he seemed to appreciate the enthusiasm of those who did show up. "It was great seeing them out there yelling at the Dodgers."
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, in an interview on MLB Network Radio today with Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy, said, "[Strasburg] was effective, his pitches were crisp, the ball was coming out of his hand great and the most important thing is that he feels good today, so those are all the mileposts that I look at. His stuff is his stuff, it's outstanding. He's got electric stuff with command, which separates him from a lot of people, but the only thing you worry about is how does he react the day after and he feels good today."
When the hosts noted the pitch efficiency Davey Johnson marveled at, the Nationals' general manager said it was by design. "We had a discussion, [Pitching Coach] Steve McCatty and myself had a discussion with Stephen, I think it was after his second minor league rehab, saying that it's okay to get somebody out with a 94-95 mph two-seamer, if they hit a ground ball, it's just as effective as throwing a 98-99 mph strikeout. Knowing that he's got that in his arsenal and in his back pocket when he needs it, when he's in a strikeout situation, that kind of separates him from the pack."
Strasburg seems to have bought into this philosophy as well, talking to reporters about the importance of throwing first pitch strikes and making efficient use of the pitches he throws. "That's what you're supposed to do as a pitcher," Strasburg said, "throw strike one, it changes the whole ballgame and the more and more times you can do that the better off you're going to be." As for pitching to contact, and the realization he had that he doesn't need to throw 100 mph to get outs, Strasburg said, "You look at some of the best pitchers in the game, Justin Verlander, for example, yeah he can throw a 100, does he do it every time? No, and look at the position that he's in this year."
As for his emotions going into his first start major league start in over a year, Strasburg said, "It felt a little different than the debut last year. It really kind of felt like I wasn't away from the game for a year. I just went out there, didn't really have the butterflies or anything, so just going out there trying to do my job." Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson too said he saw no signs that the 23-year-old right-hander was nervous about returning to the mound. "I know he was ten times more relaxed than McCatty," Davey Johnson said, "McCatty was a nervous wreck..."
"I liked the fact that he looked free and easy," Johnson continued, "didn't look like he was muscling at any time. He threw one pitch up in the zone I think 98 or 99 even though it was just late pop. It was really...I'm sure that the Dodgers were impressed also." Maybe not their manager, but the LA hitters, who managed just two hits in 5.0 IP, were no doubt impressed.
• Watch: Strasburg's Post Game Press Conference:
• video courtesy CSNWashington.com and NDN.
• Listen: Jim Bowden On Stephen Strasburg's Return And The Nats' Critics.