Stephen Strasburg ready for Chapter 3
At some point, the Washington Nationals will remove any extra restrictions from Stephen Strasburg, and with his towering frame and relentless pace he will likely become the kind of pitcher who throws 120 pitches and mows down batters deep into games. For now, with his third start arriving Friday, he is a 21-year-old phenom whose arm must be protected.
Because the Nationals will not push Strasburg, his efficiency will determine how long he can affect the game. The person least concerned with the rules that apply to him may be Strasburg himself.
"I'm not going to change the way I pitch," Strasburg said. "If they feel like it's time to take me out of the game, they're going to take me out. I'm going to go out there and give it everything I have as long as I can."
The Nationals have a strict innings limit on Strasburg for the season, and every start his endurance will likely decide when he comes out far more than his performance. Strasburg, like in his last start against the Cleveland Indians, will be on a pitch count of roughly 100.
"It's not a hard-and-fast number," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "If it's a situation where he could finish an inning for us and he's up around that number and exceeded it, I think we'd be okay with that."
The Nationals will also limit Strasburg's innings in each start. Strasburg has yet to pitch into the eighth inning this season in either the minors or majors, and if somehow Strasburg throws seven innings using a modicum of pitches, the Nationals will be hesitant to let him go further.
"That's a barrier we may cross at some point," Riggleman said. "We're being very cautious. [Strasburg could] go out there for the ninth. But there's reasons to not do it, so we're not doing it."
Strasburg has become a phenomenon largely because of his 22 strikeouts in just 12 1/3 innings. It has been suggested, though, that Strasburg would be better off by inducing more groundball outs early in the count, therefore keeping his pitch count low and allowing him to stay in the game longer. Strasburg, again, does not take that into consideration.
"I haven't thought about any of those stats at all," Strasburg said. "The only thing I'm worried about is winning. That's what everybody wants to do here. It's not going to say much if you go out there and have a bunch of strikeouts and you end walking a bunch of guys."
Said Riggleman: "I think he's just throwing his pitches."
Strikeouts could be harder to rack up for Strasburg. His opponent, the Chicago White Sox, have struck out 317 times, fewest in the majors leagues.
The Nationals have won only one game so far in their road trip -- the game in Cleveland that Strasburg himself started. Even if Luis Atilano can snap the skid today, the Nationals will be in need of momentum. Strasburg is the perfect tonic for that, and not only because of his dominance.
The Nationals have pounded 11 hits and committed no errors in eight of their 64 games -- including both of Strasburg's starts. Strasburg's crisp pitching style -- an umpire had to insist he slow down his warm-up pitches during his first start -- keeps the defense alert.
"He brings energy to the ball club," rookie shortstop Ian Desmond said.
The Nationals expect another large crowd for Strasburg's start, but as of Thursday afternoon, ample tickets are remaining, a team spokesman said. The crowd will surely dwarf a typical Nationals Park game, and his drawing power provides an extra buzz.
"I think it's a beautiful thing," center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "It gives us a chance to really come out and shine. When this kid pitches, they're coming to see him. But there are still going to be 40, 50,000 people, plus you got the whole nation watching. It's going to bring extra pizzazz to your game. You feel the energy. You feed off the energy."
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