It’s another beautiful afternoon at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where the Phoenix Desert Dogs are ready to host the Surprise Rafters in exciting Arizona Fall League action. Stephen Strasburg makes his third start for the Desert Dogs, looking to rebound from the eight-run pounding he took last week.
Also in the Desert Dogs lineup today are fellow Nats prospects Danny Espinosa (batting second, playing shortstop), Chris Marrero (batting third, playing first base) and Sean Rooney (batting ninth, catching).
Updates to come after each inning, so be sure to keep checking back in…
1st inning — OK, this is my first time seeing Strasburg in person, and I’ve got to say, it’s an impressive sight. He just went through a scoreless inning, issuing a two-out walk to Brandon Laird but otherwise dominating. He struck out the first two batters, Daryl Jones and Jeff Bianchi, throwing three 100 mph fastballs in the process. He made Bianchi look silly on an 0-2 breaking ball in the dirt. Cleanup hitter Ike Davis was the only one to make sollid contact, sending a sharp liner right at second baseman Josh Bell to end the inning. So no runs, no hits, one left on base. 18 pitches, 10 strikes, at least three that hit triple digits.
2nd inning — Another four-batter inning, with leadoff man Mitch Moreland drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch. No problem. Strasburg got Mike Moustakas to hit a lazy flyball to center field, then struck out Doug Hogan looking at a 2-2 fastball and then got Tyler Henley to ground into a fielder’s choice, 4-6. You can tell Strasburg’s command isn’t totally there today — he’s particularly just missed with several breaking balls — but his stuff is so good that he’s able to get away with some of the wildness. As long as he’s near the plate, guys aren’t touching him. 35 pitches, 19 strikes.
3rd inning — There it is, the classic 1-2-3 inning. Marcus Lemon grounds out to first (Marrero on the play). Jones hits a comebacker to Strasburg, who showed good form in making the play. And Bianchi hits a weak foul pop to the right side, with the second baseman making the play. Strasburg seems to be starting to work on his changeup more. He doesn’t have as much confidence in that pitch as he does in his fastball and breaking ball. Still, this has been pretty impressive so far: Three innings, no hits, two walks, three strikeouts, 46 pitches, 26 strikes.
4th inning — Make it four hitless innings for Strasburg, who has now retired nine straight Rafters. Nothing doin’ in the fourth. Laird popped out to second. Davis whiffed at a blazing fastball, and Moreland flied out meekly to left field. Strasburg has now faced 14 batters, and only one has managed to pull the ball (Davis, on his first inning liner to second). He’s now at 58 pitches, 35 strikes. Looks like Josh Wilkie is warming up in the bullpen, so that could be it for Strasburg. Oh, the Desert Dogs hold a 2-0 lead. Danny Espinosa had a double in the third but didn’t score. Marrero is 0-for-2 with a strikeout and popout.
5th inning — Well, they let Strasburg come back for another inning. Or least let him come back to start another inning. He faced two more batters and finally surrendered his first hit — a sharp double to the gap in right-center by Moustakas. Strasburg followed that up, though, by striking out Hogan on back-to-back sliders that the batter had ZERO chance of hitting. Just looked silly swinging at them. As impressive as the 100 mph heat is, I think Strasburg’s breaking ball is what’s going to really carry him. If batters have to sit on his fastball, they won’t be able to touch that breaking ball. Unfortunately, fellow Nats farmhand Josh Wilkie couldn’t preserve Strasburg’s shutout. He allowed a two-out triple to Marcus Lemon, giving the Rafters their first run of the day.
So Strasburg’s final pitching line for the afternoon: 4 1/3 innings, 1 hit, 1 run, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts, 67 pitches, 42 strikes.
Check back for quotes in a little while…