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Strasburg turns up the heat in debut
PHOENIX | The temperature hit 100 here Friday, and Stephen Strasburg got close enough to make Washington positively glow.
Strasburg threw two fastballs clocked at 99 mph in his start for the Phoenix Desert Dogs on Friday, turning his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League into a coming out party that made the Nationals’ major league-record $15.1 million investment look like money conservatively spent.
Strasburg hit 99 with his first pitch against Scottsdale and 99 again with pitch No. 46 before leaving one batter later, after his pitch count reached 50. He gave up two singles, walked one and struck out two, earning the win.
“It definitely was a positive,” said Strasburg, whose family flew in from San Diego for the game.
“I didn’t put any expectations on myself. I just wanted to go out and face hitters. It was a great feeling. I had a little bit of adrenaline going early in the game, kind of like my first start in college. It’s just something you have to recognize and work through.”
Ideally, the Nationals were hoping for four innings from Strasburg, but they could not have asked for much more than this.
Strasburg, the first player taken in the June draft, allowed only three baserunners in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, and none got past first base. He faced one batter over the limit before leaving with a 5-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning in a game Phoenix won 7-4.
He benefited from two double plays, both started by shortstop Shawn O’Malley, one after a leadoff walk in the second inning and one after Thomas Neal’s one-out single in the third inning, Scottsdale’s first hit. Neal lined a 1-2 curveball to left field.
Jose Tabata got Scottsdale’s second hit, driving a 99 mph fastball to center field on a 1-0 count to lead off the fourth. Strasburg got Brandon Crawford to hit into a fielder’s choice for the first out in the fourth.
Strasburg was removed at that point, leaving to a chorus of boos from a Fall League crowd of 1,138 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the spring home of the Oakland Athletics.
There was a line outside the stadium an hour before the game began, unheard of in this prospect-heavy but attendance-light league, and fans seeking autographs crowded to the first row of the bleachers.
Although he relied on his fastball, Strasburg also showed command of his change-up and what the Nationals are calling a hard breaking ball, a curve-slider combination in the 83-84 mph range.
After getting Tabata to ground out to shortstop to open the game, Strasburg struck out Crawford and Domonic Brown on change-ups for the final two outs of the first inning.
He threw 32 strikes and got eight ground-ball outs. Except for its two singles, Scottsdale did not get a ball out of the infield.
“I’m extremely pleased and not necessarily amazed. … That change-up is a pitch he hasn’t had to use very often, but that is an above-average pitch,” said Phoenix pitching coach Paul Menhart, who worked with Strasburg in the Nationals’ instructional league program before both came to the fall league.
“He knows that he is going to have to use that. It really doesn’t matter how hard you throw; hitters up here can hit 100 miles an hour. So to be able to change speeds is big for him.”
Note - Nationals prospect Drew Storen, the No. 10 pick in June’s draft, gave up two unearned runs in one inning of relief for Phoenix.
By John R. Bolton
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