No mere mortal, Strasburg dominates in debut

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Strasburg by the pitches

The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg's pitch-by-pitch report in his debut. He threw 58 fastballs, 25 curveballs and 11 changeups and struck out 14.

No.

Type

MPH

Ball/Strike

Result

1st inning

1

FB

97

B

2

FB

97

B

3

FB

98

K in play

Lineout

4

CB

82

B

5

FB

98

B

6

FB

99

K foul

7

FB

97

B

8

FB

99

K in play

Groundout

9

FB

99

K look

10

CB

82

K look

11

CB

83

K swing

K swing

2nd inning

12

CU

91

B

13

FB

98

B

14

FB

99

B

15

FB

97

K look

16

FB

99

K swing

17

FB

99

K swing

K swing

18

FB

99

K look

19

CU

91

B

20

CU

91

K foul

21

FB

100

B

22

CB

83

K swing

K swing

23

CB

82

K look

24

FB

99

B

25

FB

100

K in play

Single

26

FB

97

K foul

27

CB

82

K swing

28

FB

97

K foul

29

CB

81

B

30

CU

89

K swing

K swing

3rd inning

31

FB

97

K look

32

CU

90

B

33

CU

90

K look

34

CB

83

K look

K look

35

FB

97

K look

36

CB

82

K look

37

CB

82

B

38

FB

98

K swing

K swing

39

FB

99

B

40

FB

98

K in play

Groundout

4th inning

41

FB

96

K foul

42

CB

82

B

43

CB

82

K in play

Single

44

FB

96

B

45

CU

89

B

46

FB

95

K foul

47

FB

96

K in play

Single

48

CU

89

K swing

49

CB

81

K foul

50

FB

97

B

51

FB

97

B

52

CB

82

B

53

FB

96

K in play

Double play

54

FB

96

B

55

CU

90

K in play

HR

56

FB

98

K in play

Popout

5th inning

57

FB

97

K look

58

FB

98

B

59

FB

97

K swing

60

FB

99

K swing

K swing

61

FB

99

K look

62

FB

97

K look

63

FB

97

B

64

CB

82

K in play

Groundout

65

FB

98

K look

66

FB

98

B

67

FB

98

K look

68

CB

82

K foul

69

FB

99

K foul

70

FB

99

K look

K look

6th inning

71

FB

98

K look

72

CB

81

K look

73

CB

82

B

74

CU

91

K swing

K swing

75

FB

99

K look

76

FB

98

K foul

77

FB

99

K swing

K swing

78

CB

84

B

79

CB

82

K look

80

CB

82

K look

81

CU

92

K swing

K swing

7th inning

82

FB

96

B

83

FB

96

K foul

84

CB

81

K look

85

FB

98

K foul

86

FB

97

B

87

FB

98

K foul

88

CB

83

K swing

K swing

89

FB

98

K look

90

FB

98

K swing

91

FB

99

K swing

K swing

92

CB

83

K look

93

CB

83

K swing

94

FB

99

K swing

K swing

Source: MLB.com

WASHINGTON – The biggest event in the nation's capital since President Obama's inauguration finally came Tuesday night, and the guest of honor wanted no part of the hoopla. A rectangular block with televisions on each side sits in the middle of the Washington Nationals' clubhouse. Three were tuned in to the breathless anticipation of Stephen Strasburg's(notes) major league debut. The fourth was on the Discovery Channel.

In front of the odd TV out sat Strasburg. As his teammates listened to the surfeit of buildup emanating in surround sound, he tried to focus on an episode of "Deadliest Catch." It was entitled "Mortal Men."

Over the next five hours, Strasburg showed he may very well not be one. In perhaps the best unveiling in baseball history, Strasburg struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates and walked none over seven innings in a 5-2 victory. His 100-mph fastball dazzled, his 90-mph changeup dizzied and his breaking ball broke the Pirates' will. No pitcher had ever struck out so many with so few pitches – 94 total, 65 of which were strikes – and thus went Strasburg's first foray into record books that ought to familiarize themselves with his name.

In the Year of the Prospect – of Jason Heyward(notes) and his first-at-bat home run, of Mike Stanton(notes) and Buster Posey(notes) and Starlin Castro(notes) – no introduction matched Strasburg's. He finished with seven consecutive strikeouts, each more impressive than the previous, punctuated by a 99-mph fastball through which Andy LaRoche(notes) swung feebly. Strasburg dipped his head and walked off to a standing ovation, and as he tried to process his night, all he could remember was the first pitch.

"Everything else was just such a blur," Strasburg said. "At one point I lost track of how many innings I threw. It was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to go out there and have fun.' It's amazing.

"It's kind of like when you get married and everything, you kind of go into it wanting to really remember everything – and once it's done, you can't remember a single thing."

The rest of the baseball world can't forget it. The arrival of Strasburg came two years after he blew onto the national radar with a 23-strikeout performance as a sophomore at San Diego State. He thrived as a junior, went No. 1 in the draft to Washington, signed for $15.1 million, dominated in 11 minor league starts and graduated to set ablaze a sellout crowd of 40,315.

"We were pumped up," Nationals closer Matt Capps(notes) said. "We were fans. Excited, high-fiving each other. Kind of in amazement. Seven innings, 14 strikeouts – you don't see that very often. And the guy did it in his debut."

Only 36 times had a player struck out at least 14 in seven or fewer innings. Just five had done it with zero walks. None was a rookie, certainly, though to be fair there never has been a rookie quite like Strasburg. Not Mark Prior(notes), not Kerry Wood(notes), not even Bob Feller – no one with amalgamation of polish, stuff and confidence, the sheer ability to make a group of major league hitters look so minor. Strasburg stepped onto the mound equipped with no scouting report or knowledge of the Pirates' strengths and weaknesses. All he needed was his arm.

"You do what you do," Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said, and what Strasburg does is breathtaking. He threw 58 fastballs. They averaged 97.8 mph. The hardest fastball in the major leagues from a starter, Ubaldo Jimenez's,(notes) comes in at 96.6 mph.

Pirates swung through nine of those fastballs, along with five curveballs and four changeups. The one fly ball they hit into the outfield crept into the first row, a two-run home run by Delwyn Young(notes) off a changeup that didn't fade quite enough. It was a mistake, one from which he learned: in his next at-bat against Young, Strasburg struck him out on three straight fastballs.

The last one steamed by at 99 mph, and the next batter was LaRoche, who watched an 83-mph curveball, whiffed at another and chased gas to conclude a 30-pitch stretch in which Strasburg threw 25 strikes and struck out seven in a row. Strasburg called his seventh "just another inning," which was like calling the White House just another building.

"It's not like you can sit on his curveball, because he's got 100," LaRoche said. "My last at-bat, I had seen a couple of hammers and then he blew that high one by me."

The praise extended long and wide, and Strasburg tried as much to avoid the aftertaste as he did the initial swallow. He hugged his family and retreated to the Nationals' clubhouse, where he mummified his arm in ice. He received three balls from the game and placed them in his locker. He sat and smiled and shook hands and tried to get the final remnants of a postgame shaving-cream pie out of his nostrils.

As low-key as Strasburg played, his beneficiaries celebrated. Nationals president Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo exchanged a long hug outside of Strasburg's news conference. Agent Scott Boras leaned against a wall, a satisfied grin plastered across his face. His college coach, Tony Gwynn(notes), beamed about how this was just the beginning. And Pudge Rodriguez nodded, his 2,321st game as a catcher just as memorable as his second, when the pitcher was Nolan Ryan.

"Everybody was impressed [with] what this kid did today," Rodriguez said. "Attack the strike zone. Get ahead. Completely dominated."

This was historic, the sort of game whose crescendo could easily have come with the first pitch. Only it kept building, Strasburg a willing architect, and by the end of the seventh inning the size of the accomplishment surpassed the standards of those who pegged this a special night long before it began.

"I had some high expectations, too, and I wasn't afraid to tell people about it," said Nationals reliever Drew Storen(notes), a minor league teammate of Strasburg's. "He's the only guy who lives up to the stories you hear. And he lived up to them and exceeded them."

Amid the dissection of Strasburg's night – of his 58 fastballs, 25 curveballs and 11 changeups; of his 18 swinging strikes, 24 looking, 13 foul and 10 in play; of his 12 strikeouts swinging, six via fastball, three on the changeup and three via breaking ball; and of pitch Nos. 21 and 25, both of which hit 100 mph – was the reality: All of this was well and good, sure, but the true test of Strasburg isn't his first start. Just because he's capable of greatness in no way makes him great. That takes years, elbow and shoulder willing.

For now, Strasburg happily coaxes from his arm the sort of entrance that invokes comparisons to J.R. Richard (15 strikeouts) and Juan Marichal (12 strikeouts in a one-hit shutout) and, yes, Prior, who struck out 10 in six innings. A stroke ended Richard's career. Marichal went to the Hall of Fame. Prior hasn't pitched since he was 25, derailed by arm injuries. The paths of excellence do not lead to the same place.

Which is why Strasburg tried so hard to distance himself from the extravaganza that had become his life. When "Mortal Men" ended, he flipped the channel and ended up on Animal Planet. The program featured various wildlife getting into precarious situations and was, like the previous one Strasburg watched, appropriately named for what would soon come: "Untamed and Uncut."

The beast was finally let loose Tuesday night. There was no stopping him. And what a fascinating show it was.

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