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Stephen Strasburg's next step

This, really, is the best part about a pitching phenom who becomes a phenomenon. The Nationals and their fans waited for one year before his start, anticipation growing and growing with the reward hardly in sight. And now they can experience him starting five days later ... and then 10 days later ... and then 15 days later ... and on and on. He existed as a concept before Tuesday, and now he's one of five Nationals starters.

"He's a regular guy," pitching coach Steve McCatty said, "with a lot of talent."

On Sunday, the Nationals will limit Strasburg to roughly 100 pitches, Manager Jim Riggleman said. Strasburg threw 94 in seven innings in his first start. "We feel like if things go as we hope, we can get us through six," Riggleman said. "If he can go seven, great. We'll try to keep him under 100 pitches."

The Nationals will not treat the 100-pitch mark as a means for automatic removal. If Strasburg has, say, two outs in the sixth and 97 or so pitches, Riggleman would let him finish the inning unless a noted patient hitter was coming to the plate.

"I mean, science has got it down that great that they've determined it's that 102nd pitch that is going to tear your ligament up," Riggleman said. "If there's a free swinger up there, we're probably going to let him finish that inning."

Ivan Rodriguez is out of the lineup today so he can catch Strasburg tomorrow, as he did in Strasburg's debut. Strasburg adores working with Rodriguez, but Riggleman does not believe in personal catchers for a specific starter. While Rodriguez will catch Strasburg's first few starts, Wil Nieves, tonight's starter, will eventually catch one or two.

Strasburg entered the majors with monumental expectations, and he promptly tore the ceiling off of his potential with his unforgettable, 14-strikeout debut. The Indians sold more than 8,000 tickets in three days following the announcement that Strasburg would pitch at Progressive Field on Sunday. As the hype mounts, Strasburg has blended in.

"What his normalcy is compared to somebody else's might be a little different," McCatty said. "He takes it all in stride. For this week, the five days he's been here, he's been absolutely the same as I saw in spring training."

In Strasburg's first start, he did not use any scouting report against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That, McCatty, is the same for any Nationals pitcher; and he certainly does not want to overload anyone in first major league start. This week, McCatty familiarized Strasburg with the Indians lineup, but held back from a full report, the same thing he would do for any starter. Strasburg, he allowed, is different from most others operating without a report.

"Anything he throws, if he throws it the way he can, you can't hit it," McCatty said.

Those pitches have amazed people outside and inside the Nationals clubhouse. (Of the velocity on Strasburg's low-80s curve, Livan Hernandez said, "That's my fastball.") When he struck out a Nationals team record in his first start, Strasburg cherished his debut as a moment but largely shrugged at his success.

"I don't think anything that he does, how well he performs, would ever be a surprise to him," McCatty said. "I really don't think it should be a surprise to anyone. I think the expectations that everybody else has for him would be almost too hard to live up to. But I don't think he pays attention to any of that.

"I don't worry about his expectations, because I'm sure he knows himself pretty well. I don't think he's worried about what other people think about him. He's just going to be what he is. He handles everything great. He just wants to be one of the guys. When he's around us, he takes a lot of ribbing from everybody - the general [baloney] everybody picks on everybody about on."

This afternoon, Strasburg and close friend Drew Storen chatted in the Nationals clubhouse with Dennis Eckersley, the Hall of Fame pitcher who will call Sunday's game on national television for TBS. A few moments later, Strasburg joined the rest of the Nationals pitching staff in the outfield.

"Just another start," McCatty said. "It doesn't bother him. It's just the way he is. With all the hoopla, he takes it all in stride."

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 12, 2010; 6:46 PM ET
Categories:  Stephen Strasburg  | Tags: Nationals pitching, Nats-Indians, Stephen Strasburg  
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Next: Game 63 discussion thread: Nationals at Indians

Comments

and if he reaches 100 pitches w/ a no hitter working?

Posted by: randysbailin | June 12, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

I assume they'd leave him in for a no-hitter/perfect game, but you never know, given that they took him out last time while had a chance for 20K, which is a lot rarer than either of those.

I would hope they leave him in if at all possible if he's got a no-hitter, perfect game, or a chance for 21K.

Posted by: cassander | June 12, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

very poor night tonight vs. Cleveland...we need to find somebody to be the backup catcher, Harris needs to get it in gear or he's gone and Morgan isn't getting it done offensively...he's not a threat. What has happened to the walks we were getting. Lousy starts this week from Lannon, Atilano and Martin...hope somebody is ready to come in and throw cause these guys don't scare anybody.

Posted by: outrbnksm | June 12, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm really sick of this pitch count crap. If he has good pitching mechanics, and he does, he should be able to throw 200 pitches. Whoever invented the pitch count should be hung. Teach proper mechanics and it and you don't have to worry about pitch count.

Posted by: cokedispatch | June 12, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

coke:

Unfortunately, that's what they said about Mark Prior too. And Strasburg's mechanics are similar.

Fact is, nobody really knows what good mechanics are or aren't. No one knows what helps a pitcher avoid injury. The best they can do is limit it as much as possible. But 100 pitches in his second start? That's not too bad, really, especially since he works pretty efficiently.

Posted by: cassander | June 12, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

we need to UPGRADE OR BULL PEN with a quaility pitcher we can relie on. If this team is serious about making a playoff run . A playoff run would make DC a town to be in. We fans would have yall"s back !

Posted by: terryreece | June 13, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

tough call
he energizes baseball
a pitcher of legendary status
two games
go for the playoffs and make this fan happy
but stay with the pitch count
to keep him healthy
i want to see game 200
loved the first two
keep him healthy even if it means waiting 2 or 3 years for the [playoffs
he has the possibility to pitch the series winner

who knows

but for now 2-0
what an arm
i'm impressed

Posted by: biglou | June 14, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

o
in the end
i do agree with cassander
perfect pitchers pitch perfect games

Posted by: biglou | June 14, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

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