Setting up Strasmas Afternoon
Stephen Strasburg will face a new opponent, aside from the Kansas City Royals, this afternoon in his fourth major league start: an oppressive, humid heat that's making thermometers light up like the radar guns that measure his fastball.
With that in mind, Manager Jim Riggleman said the Nationals will monitor how the weather affects Strasburg's endurance, as they would for any of their starters. They still hope he can throw his typical allotment of pitches.
"We'd probably like to stay in that 90-to-100 range," Riggleman said. "We'll just see how it's going, how he responds to the heat out here, if that drains him just like anybody else."
The Nationals have some extenuating circumstances. The back of their bullpen has been taxed for two days, with Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps both throwing an inning each of the past two games. Drew Storen threw 22 pitches last night in one-plus innings, and Sunday he threw 30. Capps needed 20 pitches to record a harrowing save last night, but he said afterward he prided himself on being available.
The bullpen's condition may affect how Riggleman handles Strasburg. In his last start, Strasburg needed only 85 pitches in seven innings. Riggleman did not want him to throw an eighth inning, something he has yet to do as a professional, even in the minor leagues. Riggleman made that decision in part, though, because he had his bullpen set up perfectly, both Clippard and Capps fresh. So if Strasburg can sail through seven, Riggleman would consider an eighth.
"It would have to be a very smooth seven innings before I let him go out there for the eighth," Riggleman said. "Our bullpen has been pretty extended lately, so it would be a day where we'd think about doing it if it was a real smooth seven innings. I think the likelihood is that if we got seven out of him, we'd be real happy."
Despite only making three starts, Strasburg has 32 strikeouts. If he strikes out nine Royals today, he will take the Nationals team lead in strikeouts among starting pitchers, passing Livan Hernandez. Clippard leads the Nationals with 53 strikeouts; Strasburg would need to tie a major league record to pass him today. The Royals have the second-smallest strikeout total in the majors, but then the White Sox had the least and Strasburg struck out 10 in that start.
Ivan Rodriguez, the lone catcher he's had in the majors, will catch Strasburg again. He surely has played a part in Strasburg's increased comfort in his 16 days as a major leaguer.
"He's got a smile on his face a little more often," Riggleman said. "He enjoys his time in the clubhouse. He can't but realize, 'OK, I can pitch here.' That's got to be comforting for him."
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