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With Losses, Nats Could Stand to Gain Strasburg

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By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, August 23, 2008

BEIJING

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Distance is a great deodorant, but the Nationals stink all the way to China. So watching Stephen Strasburg strike out five of Cuba's best stars in four innings here Friday helped improve the smell of Washington's future just a bit.

Let's not get too intoxicated with this Strasburg kid, just because he's barely 20, is the same size as the young Roger Clemens and had nice poise in a game that could have sent a bunch of American minor leaguers into a gold medal game.

Let's not get disheveled just because the Nats are so bad they might clinch the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft, after Strasburg ends his career at San Diego State.

Oh, and scouts have timed his fastball as high as 101. That's miles per hour. But his best pitch is his curveball.

No, let's not get too excited. But pretty excited is just fine.

Here's the news: Strasburg's not perfect. Cuba's old pros worked him deep in counts, figured out that he didn't trust his change-up, made him throw 75 pitches in four frames and nicked him for a couple of earned runs. But the kid made several of Cuba's best hitters look silly and kept the United States in the game, trailing just 3-2 when he left against a squad as good as several in the majors -- and a lot better than the Nats. When Cuba got its teeth into other pitchers, the final was 10-2.

At the end of a long season when Strasburg has pitched twice as many innings as ever before and is working on fumes, he still challenged the heart of Cuba's order with a 93- to 97-mph fastball and a curveball that really is as knee buckling as advertised.

"Stephen did exceptionally well. He has too good a future ahead of him to let him labor even a little," U.S. Manager Davey Johnson said. "He kept us in good position. We didn't hold 'em.

"He has a great future -- lot of command, great stuff," said Johnson, adding with the sardonic smirk that endeared him to fans but not owners, "under normal circumstances I'd probably have let him throw 130 pitches."

That would probably have been the U.S. team's best chance. But you can endanger a phenom. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander looked better than anybody in the Nats' chain on a night when Johnson said: "Look, the kid was amped. So, he was humping up, overthrowing a little. That costs you speed instead of adding more. He's been on irregular rest. He's never pitched or traveled this much. But look how good he was anyway.


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