Mr. Precedent! Strasburg fans 14 in debut
Nats edge Pirates in right-hander's electrifying first start
WASHINGTON -- Making his Major League debut after 11 sensational Minor League starts, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched seven innings of two-run ball against the Pirates on Tuesday, earning the win and striking out 14 in the Nats' 5-2 victory.
Delwyn Young's two-run home run with two outs in the fourth was the only damage against Strasburg.
A sellout crowd of 40,315 saw Strasburg allow just four hits, and his 14 strikeouts established a club record. The 14 strikeouts by Strasburg in a Major League debut were one shy of the all-time mark of 15 set by Karl Spooner in 1954 and J.R. Richard in '71. Even more amazing was that he struck out no more than nine batters in a game when pitching in the Minor Leagues.
Strasburg, who did the job without looking at scouting reports, threw 94 pitches, 65 for strikes, and didn't walk a batter. The righty retired his final 10 batters, striking out his last seven.
"I really can't put into words any better than what you saw," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "It was very exciting with everything that was on him the last several days -- for the way it was built up. For him to respond that way was a great night for baseball in Washington. That one is behind him, and hopefully we could just get him on the routine and let him do his thing."
Strasburg acknowledged that he was nervous an hour before the game, but pitching coach Steve McCatty kept him loose. As they were walking toward the bullpen, the crowd chanted McCatty's name. McCatty joked: "They are all here for me. What are you talking about?" It put a smile on Strasburg's face and loosened him up.
"There were definitely a little bit of nerves," Strasburg said. "I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous than I was. When you have veterans in the clubhouse to really calm you down -- I was throwing to a future Hall of Famer [in Ivan Rodriguez] -- you just have to trust your stuff and try to hit his glove. Things got a lot better as the game went on, and it just started clicking."
Strasburg entered the fourth inning having allowed one hit with six strikeouts. But the first two batters of the fourth, Neil Walker and Lastings Milledge, singled. Garrett Jones then grounded into a double play before Young hit a 1-0 changeup into the right-field seats for a two-run homer and a 2-1 Pirates lead.
Strasburg retired Pittsburgh in order in the top of the first inning. Andrew McCutchen lined out to shortstop Ian Desmond, Walker grounded out to first baseman Adam Dunn and Milledge struck out to end the inning.
"He got into a comfort zone early," Walker said. "He hit good spots in the zone. When he was throwing fastballs from 96-98 [mph] on both sides of the plate and with a good curveball, you have to hit your pitch."
Strasburg was given a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, when Ryan Zimmerman hit a solo home run off right-hander Jeff Karstens.
In the second inning, Strasburg struck out the side. He fanned Jones and Young before giving up a single to Andy LaRoche. Strasburg then struck out Ronny Cedeno to end the inning.
An inning later, Strasburg struck out Jason Jaramillo and Karstens before McCutchen grounded out to Zimmerman at third to end the inning.
In his first two at-bats, Strasburg grounded out to Cedeno at shortstop, leading off the bottom of the third and for the second out of the fifth.
In the top of the fifth, Cedeno struck out, Jaramillo grounded out to Dunn and Karstens struck out looking at a 99-mph fastball.
Strasburg struck out the side for the second time in the sixth inning, but for the first time in order. McCutchen went down on four pitches, Walker on three and Milledge on four.
Strasburg was on his way to becoming the winning pitcher in the bottom of the sixth, when Washington rallied and scored three runs off Karstens. Dunn hit a two-run homer, while Josh Willingham followed with a solo homer. It marked the second time this season that the Nationals hit back-to-back home runs.
Riggleman thought about taking Strasburg out of the game after the sixth. He had already thrown 83 pitches at that point and was dealing with a pitch limit of around 90.
Most strikeouts in MLB debut
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"He was in that in-between area," Riggleman said. "I wanted him to go around 90 pitches. I was thinking that it was unlikely he was going to get through the seventh inning."
But the seventh turned out to be a quick inning for Strasburg, as he struck out the side again on 11 pitches; Jones, Young and LaRoche struck out swinging.
"We knew he had great stuff," LaRoche said. "We respected his fastball and his curveball. We knew he had put up some great numbers. He's got good stuff. We knew it was going to be a battle out there."
As Strasburg threw his last pitch to LaRoche, the cameras were flashing and the crowd was on its feet. The moment reminded Strasburg of his days at San Diego State.
"It brought back memories of the 23-strikeout game at San Diego State and the no-hitter [I threw]," Strasburg said. "The adrenaline was definitely flowing there. I was going to throw the ball as hard as I could. I was able to put it where he wasn't swinging."
Rodriguez has caught many pitchers, from Nolan Ryan to Justin Verlander, but he had never caught a pitcher who had a debut like Strasburg. The first few innings of the game, the batterymates relied on breaking balls but went with almost nothing but fastballs the rest of the way.
"The most amazing thing is that he was around the plate and threw strikes -- he is always in the strike zone," Rodriguez said. "Guys that are young are always behind in the count. Stephen didn't do that today. He just attacked the strike zone. He was tremendous. He was unbelievable."
The game was a blur for Strasburg. After the first pitch -- a ball inside -- he lost track of how many innings he threw.
"I was just going to go out there and have fun," Strasburg said. "It's kind of amazing. It's kind of like when you get married and everything. You kind of want to go into it and really remember everything. Once it's done, you don't remember a single thing."
Just about the only component of Strasburg's performance that didn't exceed expectations was his work at the plate, where he went 0-for-2 with a pair of groundouts to shortstop. No matter -- the Nats were more than happy with his contributions on the mound.
After the game, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and team president Stan Kasten were seen hugging each other in light of what they just witnessed.
"Everything was right -- he gave us a great game everyone will remember for a long time," Kasten said. "It has been an emotional couple of days. Last year's Draft was good for us. Mike and I are so determined to build a team through player development and scouting. Good things happen."