Playing D behind Strasburg 'easy'
With 14 strikeouts in debut, righty lets defense watch in awe
WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman has a dry sense of humor, and when he was asked what it was like playing third base behind right-hander Stephen Strasburg in his memorable Major League debut, Zimmerman simply smiled.
"Easy," Zimmerman said.
Strasburg made life very easy for the Nationals defense on this night. That's what happens when you strike out 14 batters in seven innings. It's also why a lot of the Nationals were shaking their heads in awe of Strasburg's amazing seven-inning performance, in which the right-hander got his first victory in Washington's 5-2 win over the Pirates on Tuesday night.
"He does a great job of working fast, throwing strikes," Zimmerman said. "He makes you want to stay in the game as well. It's great to have a pitcher like that who gets the ball, gets on the mound and goes. I think it's fun to play defense behind guys like that."
The Nationals didn't have to play a lot of defense behind the big right-hander, as 14 of the 21 outs he recorded were strikeouts. The outfielders didn't have one putout, and first baseman Adam Dunn had only three.
But it was the high number of strikeouts that the sellout crowd of 40,315 just loved watching. The fans were screaming like it was a playoff game in the seventh inning when Strasburg struck out the side to end his night -- in fact, Strasburg struck out the final seven batters that he faced.
"Things got a lot better as the game went on," Strasburg said. "I just went out there and had fun. It's just a great experience."
Strasburg gave up two runs -- both on Delwyn Young's homer in the fourth inning, which gave the Pirates a brief 2-1 lead -- and only four hits. The Nationals turned things around in the sixth, when Dunn blasted a two-run homer into the second deck in right field. Josh Willingham followed with a solo shot to left to give Washington a 4-2 lead.
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman has seen this kind of pitching effort before, back when Kerry Wood was with the Cubs. In fact, Riggleman compared Strasburg's effort to the way Wood pitched when he was at his best.
"He had electric stuff tonight," Riggleman said. "He had it all going. It was a special night."
Closer Matt Capps came on in the ninth and needed just 10 pitches to retire the side in order for his 19th save of the season after struggling in recent games.
But the veteran was fired up because he knew this was a night to remember.
"It's a team game -- we all know that," Capps said. "But he's a special talent and a special person, and to be able to be a part of the first of what I think will be a lot of wins, it's kind of a cool feeling."
Strasburg gave a lot of credit to veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who made his return from the disabled list in this game. The rookie said it was very nice to be throwing to a future Hall of Famer, and it wasn't hard to see that the two already had a rapport.
And Rodriguez, like so many others, just kept shaking his head in wonder.
"He did tremendous," Rodriguez said of Strasburg. "He was unbelievable. He just did great."
Drew Storen was Washington's second Draft pick last season. Storen, perhaps the team's future closer, beat his friend to the Major Leagues by a few weeks but felt honored to have watched Strasburg turn in an effort like the one he put forth on Tuesday.
"I've never been part of a game like that," said Storen. "He just kind of got in a groove and just settled in. I think the most impressive thing was striking out so many people on such a low pitch count. He was in control of the game."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.