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Should Stephen Strasburg resist the urge to become a strikeout king?

Only four rookies have ever had a game with 14 or more strikeouts and no walks: Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Kerry Wood and Stephen Strasburg, shown in the dugout in Cleveland during his start Sunday.
Only four rookies have ever had a game with 14 or more strikeouts and no walks: Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Kerry Wood and Stephen Strasburg, shown in the dugout in Cleveland during his start Sunday. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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In fact, the Indians made less quality contact than the Pirates did last week. The lone exception was Travis Hafner, who hit a homer on (honest) a 100 mph fastball that moved in (like a cutter) instead of tailing away (like a sinker).

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So, Strasburg's "off" game in Cleveland only underlined the trend. Half of his 16 outs came on strikeouts. Again, that's big magic or, perhaps, big mischief, because such a percentage takes you into the 350-strikeout-a-year range. If you really want to root for Strasburg on Friday at home against the White Sox, maybe you should pull for seven innings on 100 efficient pitches with a dozen groundball outs and only a few measly strikeouts.

Oh, you don't plan to do that? Somehow, I didn't think so. Those ovations on every strike, with the crowd standing on two strikes, are pretty tough stuff to resist. Cub fans can tell you. It was hard for Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to resist. Of course, it didn't bother The Express or the Big Unit for more than 20 years each.

Just to show how remarkably "untouchable" Strasburg's stuff has been so far, I reviewed all 314 starts of Koufax's career. How many times, in a nine-inning game, do you think he fanned more men than the 14 that Strasburg punched out in his debut?

Only four times.

"The Left Arm of God" fanned 18 twice and 16 twice, all in nine innings. He had extra-inning games in which he fanned 16, 15, 15 and 15. But that's the grand total: Mr. K had only eight games in his life with more Ks than Strasburg had in his debut.

And Strasburg threw only seven innings last Tuesday. What if he'd gone nine innings, as he surely will? In Cleveland, Strasburg struck out four men in the first two innings, thus starting his career with 18 strikeouts in his first nine innings on 124 pitches.

So, with a certain tilt of the head, Strasburg did in his first nine innings what Koufax was only able to do twice in his career -- strike out 18 men in nine innings.

Also, in his first game, Strasburg had 14 strikeouts and no walks. In his whole career, Koufax, known for superb control in his peak years, had only one game with a 14-0 ratio and none better. That 14-0 ratio may be the true tip-off as to Strasburg's true comparables. Only four rookies have ever had a game with 14-or-more strikeouts and no walks: Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Wood and Strasburg. Career wins: 354, 194 and 81. Take your pick.

Lest we go crazy after 16 peeks at Strasburg, and only two in the big leagues, note that Ryan struck out 19 men three times in one season and the Big Unit, from 1999 to 2002, when he averaged 354 strikeouts, fanned more than 14 men nine times.

So, even with the rosiest-colored glasses, Strasburg isn't unique. But it is starting to look -- just starting, mind you -- like his style may be most akin to the 11 pitchers in modern history who've fanned more than 310 men in a season -- Ryan, Johnson, Koufax, Bob Feller, Rube Waddell, Sam McDowell, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, J.R. Richard, Steve Carlton and, yes, Walter Johnson.

Will this ultra-high-strikeout pattern, one that nobody -- even the Nats and Strasburg themselves -- anticipated just one week ago, continue? Should we even want it to? No one knows. But you can bet we'll be waiting, every five days, to find out.


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