"He made it look easy." Nats manager Davey Johnson.

Stephen Strasburg picked up where he left off 13 months ago.
Though the Washington Nationals could not produce a win for Stephen Strasburg in his return, the big right-hander's performance was everything anyone could have hoped for.

For five innings, Strasburg owned the pitcher's mound at Nats Park, delighting those that braved the lousy weather forecast, considerably less than the announced paid attendance of 29,092.  Though the predictions seemed dire during the afternoon, the rains stopped long enough for Strasburg to get his work in last night, and he did so in impressive fashion.

So some may fixate on the fact that the final score favored the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3.  Or that multiple arms in the bullpen -- who may or may not be part of the future of this franchise -- gave up six times the number of hits in four innings that Strasburg did in his five.

But the real story last night, for those paying attention, was the way Strasburg limited the Dodgers to two hits; one a jammed opposite field double and the other a graciously scored single off shortstop Ian Desmond's glove.  Or that of his 56 pitches, 40 were strikes.  Or that Strasburg walked no one and, in fact, went to three balls on exactly one of his 17 batters faced. 

“He was special,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “It was nice seeing him back. It was just fun watching him. It was just like he hadn’t been out.”

According to PitchFX, Strasburg threw 28 four-seam fastballs -- 23 for strikes -- at an average speed of 96.68.  He threw 16 two-seam fastballs, which is his ground ball generating pitch, at an average speed of 95.07.  Strasburg added five changeups and seven curveballs to the mix.  If there was one place to pick nits, it would be that he only induced four swinging strikes, though two of those swings came on changeups for strikeouts.

But much like his teammate Jordan Zimmermann, a fellow Tommy John survivor, Strasburg was getting outs pounding the strike zone.

Strasburg walks in from the bullpen with pitching coach Steve McCatty and catcher Wilson Ramos.
At 7:10 pm, Stephen Strasburg strode to a Major League mound for the first time since sustaining injury 13 months ago in Philadelphia, a mere year and three days out from the resultant ligament replacement surgery.  His first delivery was a 96 MPH two-seam fastball to Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, who managed to foul it off the other way.  Three pitches later, Strasburg jammed Gordon, but the Dodgers' top prospect got enough of the pitch to serve it to the gap in left center field for a stand-up double.

Strasburg then mowed through the next three batters in the top of the first.  James Loney lofted a soft fly ball to center, Matt Kemp grounded to short, and Juan Rivera popped up to right field to end the inning.  The at bat to Kemp was notable, as the possible league MVP looked at Strasburg's first curveball, then offered at the very same on the next pitch, rolling over on the bender and tapping it to short.

In the second, there was more of the same.  Andre Ethier swung through a 90 MPH changeup, Aaron Miles whiffed on a 99-MPH four-seamer, and Rod Barajas flew out to center.  The third inning saw a pop-up and two ground outs, and in the fourth, Strasburg gave up a ground ball single, but K'd Kemp on the change and blew away Ethier with gas with his 47th pitch.

Though rain started to drizzle in the top of the fifth, Johnson sent Strasburg back out for one more frame since Strasburg was still short of his pitch count.  The 23-year old responded with another quality inning, getting three more outs with ease, leaving to a standing ovation from the Nats Park crowd.

"He was outstanding," Johnson gushed.  "He looked totally relaxed, totally in control.  Had all his ptiches working.  He made it look easy."

Third base coach Bo Porter gave Strasburg a hand when he was finished.
After Strasburg left, a parade of relievers turned the game into something of a mess.  Doug Slaten gave up singles to two of the three batters he faced to start the sixth.  Brad Peacock, making his Major League debut, took over and gave up four hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings.  Henry Rodriguez gave up two runs on three hits in his inning of work, and Yunesky Maya gave up two runs on two hits and two walks in his one inning.

The Nats staked Strasburg to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.  Back-to-back doubles by Chris Marrero and Wilson Ramos produced the first run, then the Dodgers Ted Lilly threw away Strasburg's sacrifice attempt, allowing Ramos to score and Strasburg to end up at second.  Ian Desmond pushed Strasburg to third on a single to right, and the Nats pitcher brought home the third run of the inning on a Jayson Werth groundout.

Strasburg helped his own cause with this second inning sacrifice.
But that was the end of the Nats offense for the night.  The Nationals went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position, left 11 men on base, and struck out an astounding 17 times against six Dodgers pitchers.  The Nats actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth inning, bringing the tying run to the plate, but Michael Morse struck out and pinch-hitter Corey Brown flew out to left for the final out of the game.

What happened after Strasburg left the game, really, was immaterial except that it blemished what otherwise was a superlative evening in the history of the Washington Nationals.  The most important development over the course of this season was the recovery and rehabilitation of Stephen Strasburg.  Last night, the Nats got another glimpse of the future of this team.  And it was good.
________________________________________________________

THE GOOD:  Um, some kid named Strasburg pitched.

THE BAD:  Danny Espinosa went 0-for-4 with three more strikeouts, stranding four runners.

THE UGLY:  Michael Morse had an uncharacteristically poor night, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and a whopping seven runners left on base.

THE STATS:  Seven hits, five walks, 17 strikeouts.  3-for-15 w/RISP, 11 LOB, no GIDP.  No errors.

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday at 7:05 pm against the Dodgers.  Chien-Ming Wang (2-3, 4.19) faces Dana Eveland (1-0, 1.13).

NATS NOTES:  RHP Brad Peacock, LHP Atahualpa Severino, OF Corey Brown and 2B Steve Lombardozzi all made their MLB debuts last night.  Severino struck out the only batter he faced, Lombardozzi walked against Mike MacDougal in his only plate appearance, and Brown flew out to left field with the bases loaded to end the game.

Steve Lombadozzi looks at ball four in his MLB debut.

Corey Brown flied out to left in his MLB debut.
Atahualpa Severino struck out his only batter in his MLB debut.
Brad Peacock struggled a bit in his MLB debut.

1 comments

  1. bdrube // September 7, 2011 at 6:40 AM  

    I really hope Strasburg's performance shuts up the idiot critics who say he shouldn't be pitching this year. The man gets paid to pitch, and with all of the future money at stake based upon his long term health, I cannot imagine that he, his agent or the Nats franchise would want him out there if he wasn't ready.