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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Strasburg adjusts to life in the majors

It feels like much, much longer -- after all, he's crammed in a franchise-shifting debut, 22 strikeouts, an appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman," a request from the Hall of Fame and the cover of Sports Illustrated -- but Stephen Strasburg has been a major leaguer for nine days.

In that time, Strasburg has started to find a routine in the majors; he felt far more comfortable in his second start, on Sunday, than his first, he said Wednesday. He has listened to Washington Nationals teammates and learned from watching big league hitters react from the dugout. And then there's his favorite part.

"There's a lot of good perks, but food is definitely improved at this league," Strasburg said during a 10-minute media session. "When you have crab legs and shrimp for a pre-BP meal, that's saying something."

On Friday, Strasburg will make his next start. The Nationals have garnered unprecedented local and national attention, and Strasburg is the sole reason. He continues to disregard the hype surrounding him and, whenever he can, defers to his teammates.

"I'm not the face of the franchise," Strasburg said. "You got to talk to guys like Pudge [Iván Rodríguez] and [Adam] Dunn and [Ryan] Zimmerman. They've been here. They've earned that right. I've pitched two games here.

"I feel like nobody in this organization expects me to be the guy who turns this franchise around. It's going to be a collective effort, and it starts from the ground up. I'm just trying be a good teammate in the clubhouse and go out there and be an impact player."

Strasburg has convinced virtually everyone across baseball, though, that he will be the force behind any franchise changes. "When they got that horse pitching," Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said, "they're as good as anybody in baseball that day."

In San Diego, Strasburg rarely was noticed outside of sporting venues, he said. Now, he sees people recognize him all the time in Washington. Wednesday afternoon, he went to P.F. Chang's with Rodríguez at a shopping center outside Detroit. One diner approached them and said, "Good luck."

"But that's because Pudge was there," Strasburg said. "I think they put two and two together."

At the ballpark, Strasburg has settled into the routine he thrives on. Tuesday, he lifted weights. During games between starts, Strasburg focuses on every pitch.

"You've got to check in every single day, mentally and physically," Strasburg said. "There's always something you can pick up on. Just watching the game, like last night, I started to really pick up how certain hitters attack certain pitchers.

"As long as I keep focusing on that, I think I'll learn a lot from it. Other than that, to me, it's pretty much the same game. It's obviously a little bit faster paced up here. But it's still 60 feet 6 inches. The base paths are 90 feet. Same game."

-- Adam Kilgore


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