VIERA, Fla. — Upon request, Stephen Strasburg extended his left hand and pointed to the spot where a line drive off the bat of Tigers’ slugger Prince Fielder had hit him. He still had a slight mark from where the seam of the baseball struck the base of his hand, left uncovered by his glove.
Much the way he did during the fourth inning when Fielder’s single rocketed back at him, Strasburg brushed it off.
“It’s a little tender,” he said. “But nothing crazy.”
That was the good news for the Washington Nationals after their 4-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Friday. Strasburg, who flexed his hand and shook it out a few times in the aftermath of getting hit, remained in the game. He completed six innings of work in which he allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk and struck out five.
When the game was over, he was taken for an X-ray.
“It was a scare, no doubt about it,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson who, along with pitching coach Steve McCatty and trainer Lee Kutnz rushed out to the mound and watched Strasburg throw two practice pitches before they were convinced he’d be fine to continue.
“I knew it hit him on the glove hand and he was shaking that hand. That was a bullet. But they said the swelling after the game wasn’t too severe and they thought he’d be all right.”
Otherwise, his penultimate start went mostly according to plan. Of the Tigers’ seven hits, six of them were singles — fairly weak contact that found the right spots on the field. The other was a solo home run by Matt Tuiasosopo. A scout in the stands clocked his fastball mostly in the 94-96 mph range, but he hit 98 at times.
“They singled me to death, other than the home run early,” Strasburg said. “But that’s baseball.”
Johnson was pleased to see his ace use strong breaking pitches behind in the count and the fact that he pushed his pitch count to 89 (55 strikes). The next time out, Strasburg will be held to about 70 pitches, part of Johnson’s usual plan to back off his starters in their final start before the season.
“He’s right where he needs to be,” Johnson said.
Strasburg called on his curveball, a pitch he feels he has much better command of now than at this time last year, a few times on the first pitch on Friday. That’s something he’s been trying to find a balance with doing for some time.
Last year, Johnson urged Strasburg to pitch more with his fastball, setting hitters up, before he worked in his offspeed and breaking pitches.
But Strasburg also knows most hitters fear those pitches. His fastball is electric, but it’s also the pitch most view as possibly their only shot for a hit. So he’s worked to figure out the best way to use it all.
“I think I’m pretty comfortable throwing offspeed early (in counts),” Strasburg said. “I’m just sticking to my gameplan and not really veering off it. As much as you think they’re going to go in there and try to work the count, see a lot of pitches, they’re just not changing (the pattern of swinging early).
“They’re up there hacking, because they don’t want to see my offspeed… There’s guys where you just have to blow them away and make them hit your fastball. And there’s guys you have to be a bit more conservative with and a little but smarter. You’ve got to make them prove it.”
The Nationals’ time under the Florida sun is dwindling. Strasburg, the first pitcher in the Nationals’ rotational order, has one more start before the curtain goes up on the 2013 season. He says he’s ready.
“My arm felt great today,” he said. “I think my stamina is there. I felt as strong, if not looser, from the first inning to the sixth. I definitely could’ve gone back out there for the rest of the game, to be honest. That’s a good sign.”