Posts Tagged ‘MLB’
Articles, MLB, News - Thursday, June 10, 2010 6:49 - 0 Comments
The kid didn’t bother with scouting reports. Just this once, he didn’t need to.
Stephen Strasburg was under orders to let Pudge Rodriguez call the pitches and throw to the spot where the veteran catcher set his mitt. He didn’t miss many.
“Unbelievable,” said Rodriguez, who had the best seat in the house Tuesday night.
Absolutely. Just remember that it’s never going to be quite that simple again.
For starters, the Pittsburgh lineup that Strasburg dominated in his debut has a hard time hitting. The Pirates came into the game batting a major-league low .237 and no club is worse at catching up to fastballs, which just happens to be Strasburg’s specialty. Three dozen of the 94 pitches he threw were clocked at 98 mph or better.
But there’s more.
“His change-up is like 89-90-91 miles an hour, man,” Pittsburgh’s Ronny Cedeno moaned after Strasburg and the Nationals rolled up a 5-2 win. “That’s hard to hit.”
And it might not have been his best pitch, either. That distinction probably belonged to what the 21-year-old right-hander called a “slurve,” a curve ball that tickled the radar gun in the low 80s.
Before the game, to cover their bases, analysts compared Strasburg to everyone from eventual flameouts like David Clyde and Todd Van Poppel to the surprisingly — and now suspiciously — durable Roger Clemens.
But judging by a few of the Pirates’ expressions at the plate — 14 struck out in seven innings, including the last seven Strasburg faced — a more apt comparison might have been Bruce Sutter or Mariano Rivera. In short, almost untouchable.
“As the game went on, things worked a little better,” Strasburg said. “My stuff is not always going to be that good.”
Not likely, but the bar has already been set. There are any number of reasons why Strasburg generated so much hype — more sports-media outlets than ever, his uberagent, Scott Boras, a stellar amateur career, take your pick. But the one that came closest to justifying those expectations was how close to a finished product Strasburg turned out to be.
It wasn’t just what he threw at the Pirates, but how he threw exactly what he needed to at almost every juncture, like when he came back from 3-and-0 count to strike out Garrett Jones in the seventh.
Or how quickly Strasburg learned from his few mistakes. In the fourth inning, he threw Delwyn Young a change-up that lingered too long over the plate, then looked on helplessly as it cleared the fence for the only two runs Pittsburgh managed. The next time he faced Young, in the seventh, Strasburg turned up the heat — 98, 98 and 99 mph in succession — and made him the 13th strikeout victim of the game.
And the best thing about his performance? For all the superlatives Strasburg coaxed from teammates opponents and those same analysts, he seemed the least impressed guy at the ballpark. That, or else he was just blessed with a short memory.
“The only thing I really remember was the first pitch,” he said afterward. It was a ball, inside. Everything else is such a blur. At one point I lost track of how many innings I had.
“It’s just amazing, kind of like getting married and everything. You kind of go into it wanting to remember everything, and once it’s done, you can’t remember a single thing.”
Memorable as his debut was to everyone else, the sooner Strasburg actually forgets what happened Tuesday night, the better off he’ll be in the long run. Sprinkled in among a standing-room were scouts from more than a few National League rivals.
Watching him live will soon give way to exhaustive film study and then a scouting report that will detail Strasburg’s tendencies, where he tries to locate certain pitches in every situation, and then it will be refined every time he pitches.
His velocity was impressive, but if Strasburg settles into a pattern, it will only do him so much good. As former ace and current ESPN analyst Orel Hershiser noted, major-league hitters “can hit a bullet if they know it’s coming.”
If the kid is as good as he looked, he’ll take that to heart. If Strasburg is going to fulfill the promise he showed the first time out, he’ll have to rely on his head to get through those nights when his arm isn’t at full strength.
Bob Feller, another phenom blessed with a great fastball, set a single-season strikeout mark of 348 in 1946. The following season, he slipped on a mound in Philadelphia and never had that blurring, exhilarating, most magical of pitches at his command again.
“All of a sudden,” Feller recalled in an interview, “you’re wondering how to pitch to hitters whose names you never had to know because you could always blow the ball by them.”
That’s what the scouting reports are for. There’s no time like the present to start reading up.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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