Strasburg live-blog: This time it counts
Greetings from Blair County Ballpark in Altoona, Pa., which today will play host to some 7,000 fans, 74 credentialed media members, two representatives of the Nationals' front office and 48 players of the Harrisburg Senators and Altoona Curve -- one of whom, in particular, will garner an inordinate share of the attention.
Today, as you probably know, is Stephen Strasburg's professional, regular-season debut, and the atmosphere here is far different than anything I've ever seen around a minor league ballpark. As we speak, about a dozen still photographers and television cameras are shooting Strasburg warming up in the bullpen. (A normal game at Altoona, according to the good folks who work here, gets about six media members -- and that's about how many were on hand to cover Saturday's game.)
Perhaps understandably, the home team is capitalizing on Strasburg's arrival. On the Curve's home page is a photo of Strasburg in mid-delivery. Around my neck is a special, one-game-only media credential featuring a photo of Strasburg. (Last time I can recall that occurring was at Cal Ripken's final game in 2001.) The Altoona Mirror newspaper, meantime, featured no fewer than three long Strasburg-related stories, which took up nearly two full pages inside the Sports section.
Strasburg will be limited to six innings or 90 pitches, whichever comes first. ESPN News will be showing Strasburg's half-innings live; you can also stream the game at MLB.com. And I'll be providing periodic updates here, so check back frequently.
2:21: Strasburg's fastball command is a bit off at the start, and he paid for it with an earned run in the bottom of the first. With two outs, Curve left fielder Alex Presley doubled over the head of Senators right fielder Jesus Valdez, and Miles Durham followed with a sharp, RBI single to center. Strasburg had fallen behind both hitters -- as he did frequently during what became a 24-pitch inning. His fastball was clocked as high as 97 mph on the scoreboard radar-readout, although locals say it is generally thought to be about 2 mph slow. One of those hard ones nearly took the head off Curve third baseman Josh Harrison, who threw his bat up to protect his face and wound up fouling the pitch off. All told, Strasburg threw just 12 strikes among his 24 pitches that inning, walking one.
2:35: Looks like Strasburg has righted himself. Against the bottom of the Curve lineup, he was literally untouchable. Eight pitches, eight strikes. One weak grounder to second, two strikeouts. His fastball sat at 97 and 98 (which would equate to 99 and 100, if we assume the stadium gun is two ticks slow). That was more like the Strasburg we saw this spring. (One other Senators note I meant to mention earlier: Shortstop Danny Espinosa, a top Nationals prospect, is out of the lineup for the second straight day with a strained hamstring. Doug Harris, the Nationals' farm director, said he doesn't think it will result in a trip to the disabled list, but he also couldn't rule it out.)
2:50: More Strasburg mastery. He started mixing in more change-ups (at 90 mph!) in the third inning, and it was another 1-2-3 frame. Two more strikeouts -- that's five for the game so far. Poor Alex Presley took a 98 mph fastball for strike one, laid off a change-up for ball one, waved helplessly at a change for strike two, then whiffed on a high, 98-mph fastball for strike three. It hardly seemed fair. (Strasburg also batted in the top half of the inning, tapping out weakly to the pitcher. On Saturday, I was watching Strasburg take batting practice and remarked to Ron Schueler, a Nats special assistant, how competent Strasburg looked with the bat for someone who hadn't hit in a game since high school. "Yeah," Schueler replied, "just wait 'til they start spinning 'em.")
2:55: How absurd is a 90-mph change-up? Consider the fact Tom Milone, Strasburg's Senators teammate, shut out the Curve over six innings the day before without throwing a single pitch harder than 89.
3:10: A one-out walk in the fourth gave Strasburg the opportunity to work on the new, slower stretch delivery the Nationals are asking him to use. The idea was that by rushing his delivery, he was costing himself too much velocity. Out of the stretch today, his fastball velocity dropped to the 93-95 mph range, though he still would have gotten out of the inning without giving up a run had his defense not made a pair of errors behind him -- second baseman Michael Martinez dropped a potential double-play grounder, and center fielder Leonard Davis threw wildly to home plate. All told, Strasburg gave up three runs in the inning -- all of them unearned -- including one that scored on an RBI single by Rudy Owens, the opposing pitcher. Strasburg had two more strikeouts (both on filthy breaking pitches that buckled the batters' knees), giving him seven for the game, but his pitch count is up to 71. That means the fifth inning could very well be his last.
3:24: Strasburg just lined a two-out, RBI double over the right fielder's head -- his first professional hit -- as the Senators are rallying in the top of the fifth. Strasburg scored one batter later, when Martinez singled to right. The Senators still trail 4-3, but Altoona starting pitcher Rudy Owens is out of the game. Incidentally, per Eastern League rules, pitchers hit during games played in the home parks of NL affiliates. In home parks of AL affiliates, the DH is used.
3:36: A quick, 11-pitch fifth inning -- including one more strikeout, the eighth of the day for Strasburg -- will leave Senators Manager Randy Knorr with a tricky decision as to whether to send Strasburg back out for the sixth. He's at 82 pitches now, and the goal was to get him 85-90, so my guess is that will be the end of Strasburg's day. His command was solid that inning, and his fastball out of the windup was back up to 97 on the stadium radar gun.
3:39: On the other hand, no one is warming up in the Senators' bullpen -- so maybe Strasburg gets a partial inning.
3:45: Senators left fielder Bill Rhinehart just smashed a two-run double, which puts the Senators ahead, 5-4, and which also means Strasburg could get the win. He's out of the game now, and reliever Erik Arnesen is coming in. Strasburg's final line: 5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. He threw 82 pitches, 55 for strikes.
April 11, 2010; 1:27 PM ET
| Tags: Baseball field, Eastern League, Games played, Harrisburg Senators, Right fielder, Run batted in, Stephen Strasburg, sport
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