Solid loss shows height of Strasburg's bar
Nats' Triple-A phenom yields three runs in five-plus innings
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Three runs allowed over five-plus innings isn't usually considered an off-night.But Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg is playing under a different set of rules. Because Strasburg has set the bar so high with his dominant Minor League performances, his outing for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees on Saturday night was a reason to ask, "What went wrong?" Strasburg's answer?
"That's baseball. You win some, and you lose some," he said. "I'm not chalking it up as getting pushed back. They beat me today. It happens."Strasburg was touched for three runs on six hits in five-plus innings and suffered his first Triple-A loss as the Yankees edged the Chiefs, 3-2, before 13,115 fans at Alliance Bank Stadium. Strasburg also surrendered his first home run as a pro -- a solo shot by Rene Rivera in the third inning -- and committed his first balk in 50 1/3 Minor League innings this season. Entering Saturday's game, Strasburg was 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA (one earned run in 23 1/3 innings) in his first four Triple-A starts. "Stuff-wise, he was good today. Everything seemed to work," Chiefs manager Trent Jewett said. "He's human." Strasburg tossed 86 pitches (54 strikes) before exiting the game with the bases loaded, nobody out and a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth inning. The two runs Scranton scored later that inning were charged to Strasburg. "It was definitely one of those days where you have to go out and battle," Strasburg said. Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in last year's Draft, faced the minimum six batters through the first two innings. But Rivera opened the third by working the count to 3-2 and blasting a 99-mph fastball over the right-center-field fence. "The kid throws hard," Rivera said. "I wasn't expecting to hit a home run. He has the best stuff I've ever seen in the Minor Leagues." Rivera hit three home runs in 150 Major League at-bats with the Seattle Mariners from 2004-06. The New York Yankees signed Rivera out of the independent Atlantic League on May 21 to replace Chad Moeller, who was promoted to New York when Jorge Posada was placed on the disabled list. "I didn't think it was gone," Strasburg said. "A guy is going to run into it every now and then." Strasburg settled down after Rivera's home run and struck out the side in the fifth inning. But Reegie Corona opened the sixth with an infield single and Eduardo Nunez followed with a ground-ball single to left field. "I got two ground balls, and as a pitcher, that's all you can hope for is getting ground balls," Strasburg said. "They hit it where we weren't, and that's baseball." The inning went from bad to worse for Strasburg. With a 2-1 count on Jon Weber, who had singled and walked in his first two at-bats, Strasburg threw a wicked curveball that plate umpire John Conrad called a strike. Weber disagreed, and was ejected with a 2-2 count. "I told him, 'Nice [expletive] call. It wasn't a strike,'" Weber said. "I didn't think he was going to throw me out. That's why I got so [upset]." Jeff Natale pinch-hit for Weber and took a curveball for a ball to make the count 3-2. With runners at first and second, Strasburg twitched while in the stretch position and was called for the balk. He then walked Natale and Jewett summoned reliever Josh Wilkie. Jewett said he removed Strasburg because of a combination of his pitch count and the situation. Strasburg left to a standing ovation from the crowd that included thousands of Little Leaguers on Little League Night. "All in all, I was pleased with him," Jewett said. "He did his job." In five Triple-A starts, Strasburg is 3-1 with a 1.27 ERA, six walks and 33 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. Folding in five starts at Double-A Harrisburg, he's 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA, 12 walks and 60 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. It was reported this past week that Strasburg would make his Major League debut during a June 8-10 series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Washington. If that's the case, Strasburg will likely make one more start for Syracuse, either June 3 at Buffalo or June 4 against the Durham Bulls in Syracuse. The Nationals have not officially announced Strasburg's Major League debut. Strasburg's first start with the Nationals will be one of the most anticipated outings in recent big league history. Scranton's Rivera said even on Strasburg's worst night in Triple-A he could see what all the fuss is about. "When he gets there," Rivera said, "he'll be one of the best in the big leagues."
Matt Michael is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.