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06/09/10 2:40 AM ET

Cool McCatty keeps Strasburg calm

With Nats' new ace nervous, pitching coach lightens mood

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg acknowledged that he was nervous an hour before he made his Major League debut on Tuesday, a game he dominated with 14 strikeouts against the Pirates to help the Nationals win, 5-2.

But pitching coach Steve McCatty kept Strasburg loose. Before the game, as the two were walking toward the Nationals bullpen, the crowd chanted McCatty's name. McCatty then joked: "They are all here for me. What are you talking about?" It put a smile on Strasburg's face and loosened him up.

Stephen Strasburg

"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."

In the bottom of the third inning, with Rodriguez on third, Strasburg hit a ground ball to deep short. It looked like Strasburg was going to get the first hit of his career, but he took his time jogging to first base and was thrown out. When Strasburg approached the bench, McCatty asked Strasburg with a straight face: "What are you doing? Why didn't you run?"

"Did you want me to run hard on that?" Strasburg asked.

"It's a knock -- you have to run hard." McCatty responded.

McCatty smiled and then said, "You did the right thing."

"I was just saying stuff to make him relax," McCatty said.

Strasburg's effort while running the bases was forgotten in light of his accomplishments on the mound. The right-hander allowed just four hits and with his 14 strikeouts established a Nationals single-game record, surpassing John Patterson's mark of 13. The 14-strikeout total by Strasburg was one shy of the all-time mark of 15 in a Major League debut set by Karl Spooner in 1954 and J.R. Richard in 1971. Even more amazing was that Strasburg struck out no more than nine batters in a game while pitching in the Minor Leagues.

Strasburg 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 was happy -- I'm excited," McCatty said. "But did I expect anything less? Probably not. Was I shocked that he did it? Probably not. Was it neat? Yeah. But he is competitor."

Strasburg did the job without looking at scouting reports. The team decided to let Rodriguez determine which pitches to throw.

"We didn't go over the hitters with Strasburg because I didn't want to cloud him today," McCatty said. "He is thinking about all he is doing and how he is going to try and remember [the scouting reports]. So we'll do a little more with that. We'll just make sure that the things he is doing stay the same."

McCatty was impressed by how Strasburg was able to handle all of the pressure.

"He handles it so well -- it doesn't get to him," McCatty said. "I can imagine there are times he says, 'God, this is getting old,' but he does a great job, and he is 21. He has one outing down and he has a bunch left, and we'll see how it goes. I think it's going to go pretty good."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.