Strasburg pitches three scoreless innings in second spring start

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 15, 2010

VIERA, FLA. -- Stephen Strasburg's spring training debut last Tuesday had done little to quell the curiosity among those who wanted to see him pitch, even among men who have spent their lives inside the game. At 10 a.m. Sunday, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan stood on the Space Coast Stadium field and shared the prevailing sentiment. "I'm anxious to see Strasburg," he said.

With three more scoreless innings in Washington's 7-3 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, Strasburg validated his sterling debut and only ratcheted the anticipation for him to arrive at Nationals Park. Strasburg handled an unnerving crosswind in allowing the Cardinals two singles and a walk while striking out two. He did not dominate as thoroughly as he had in two innings last Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers, but he provided further incentive for Nationals fans who are eager to see Strasburg.

Every action and quote from the Nationals this spring has hinted at the Nationals' starting Strasburg in the minor leagues. One front-office employee spoke about the need to bring Strasburg to Washington as a full-blown major leaguer, ready to handle everything from travel to holding on runners like a professional, and not a "sideshow."

And yet, "we haven't eliminated anything," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's going to be an organizational decision. We'll continue to put our heads together and come up with a decision."

One factor in the decision, it has been assumed, is that the Nationals would delay Strasburg's free agency by a year by keeping him in the minors to begin the season. General Manager Mike Rizzo vowed Strasburg's free agency will not matter in the decision.

"That has nothing to do with it," Rizzo said. "It's the development of the player, for the long-term success of him and for the franchise. Those things, when you're trying to win ballgames, they don't enter a general manager's mind. Believe me."

Strasburg remained the only potential Nationals starter yet to allow a run during their 0-10 start to spring training. The velocity on his fastball dropped by a tick Sunday, perhaps a symptom of the cross-wind. Liván Hernández, who pitched after Strasburg, said the wind nearly caused him to lose his balance during his wind-up.

Strasburg's fastball zipped mostly at 96 mph. The speed of his heater, the root of so much hype surrounding him, is of little concern to Strasburg. Both of his strikeouts came on breaking balls, and only one out -- a foul popup to first baseman Adam Dunn -- came in the air.

Riggleman called the ample grounders "very encouraging" for a power pitcher, and they also showed Strasburg's mind-set. Just because he can strike out batters doesn't mean he needs to.

"I'm not worried about velocity," Strasburg said. "Guys that can throw 100 can get lit up in the big leagues. A guy can hit a 100-mile-an-hour fastball. That's not pitching. So I'm trying to go out there and pitch."

"A lot of guys throw 96," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. "It's where he's throwing it. Everything that's been said about him, it's where it should be. He's got it all."

In his first outing, Strasburg fell behind six of the eight hitters he faced. On Sunday, he threw first-pitch strikes to seven of 11 batters. The improvement owed mostly to the nerves he felt in his debut, before which pitching coach Steve McCatty reminded him to breathe.

"You get really anxious, you get really excited to go out there," Strasburg said. "I was able to kind of harness it and regulate it a little bit better."

Still, in the first inning Strasburg allowed a single to center by Allen Craig and he walked Colby Rasmus. Catcher Wil Nieves noticed Strasburg "opening up," meaning he rotated his upper body too quickly. Strasburg made an adjustment and struck out David Freese swinging at a curveball.

Strasburg focused mainly on throwing pitches low in the strike zone. He became accustomed to vicious wind pitching for San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference. "Pretty much every away start, we had 40, 45 mile per hour winds blowing out," Strasburg said.

"I told him, 'Good pitchers who win 15 or 20 games in the big leagues, that's what they do,' " Nieves said. "That shows his character. Even though he's young, he kept battling."

Strasburg's next start will likely come Friday, Riggleman said, a home night game against the Cardinals. The most urgent question about Strasburg is when he'll pitch in the major leagues, his future a preoccupation for most everyone except him.

"I'm not too worried about it," Strasburg said. "I'm living in the now."

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