Stephen Strasburg may have exceeded the hype in his Major League Baseball debut, collecting a team-record 14 strikeouts while pitching the Washington Nationals to a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I can tell you this, even the guys from the other side when they came up they said, ‘This kid is unbelievable,’” said Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez. “Everybody was impressed with what he did. He completely dominated.”
Strasburg, a 21-year-old right-hander, was the top pick in the 2009 amateur baseball draft and signed a four-year contract with the Nationals for a record $15 million.
Pitching before the Nationals’ second sellout crowd of the season last night, Strasburg limited the Pirates to four hits with a mixture of fastballs that reached 100 mph (161 kph), changeups and breaking balls.
Strasburg didn’t walk a batter and his 14 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher in his major league debut since 1971, when J.R. Richard fanned 15 in nine innings for the Houston Astros. Karl Spooner of the Brooklyn Dodgers also had 15 strikeouts in his major league debut in 1954.
“I didn’t have any expectations going into this game,” Strasburg said during a news conference. “I just wanted to go out there and soak it all in. It’s definitely icing on the cake to go out there, pitch well and get a win.”
Strasburg threw 94 pitches -- 65 for strikes -- and struck out the final seven batters he faced. His final pitch was a 99 mph fastball to Andy LaRoche. He received a curtain call from fans at Nationals Park after the top half of the inning.
‘He Was Electric’
“He was electric. He was the show,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said in a televised interview. “It was a great night for Stephen and a great night for the Nationals.”
Strasburg’s well-hyped debut came after he rose through the Nationals’ minor-league system by compiling a 6-2 record with a 1.43 earned run average for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.
While Washington is in last place in the National League Eastern Division, MLB Network televised the game and tickets sold out within two hours of the June 1 announcement that Strasburg would pitch. The team sold an extra 2,000 standing-room-only tickets hours before yesterday’s game.
Strasburg received a standing ovation when he took the field to start the game and retired the Pirates in order during the first inning. Pittsburgh’s team batting average was tied for the lowest in the majors entering the game and the Pirates’ 187 runs scored were the second-fewest ahead of Baltimore.
“There were definitely nerves,” Strasburg said. “You just have to trust your stuff. Things started getting better as the game went on and it just started clicking.”
Strasburg allowed a two-out single in the second inning before striking out the side.
“He just attacked the strike zone and got ahead (in the count),” Rodriguez said.
In the fourth, Strasburg allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning before getting Garrett Jones to ground into a double play. The next batter, Delwyn Young, hit a 1-0 changeup into the first row of seats in right-center field for a two-run homer that gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
Strasburg then struck out five of the next six batters and the Nationals regained the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning on consecutive homers by Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. Strasburg fanned all three batters he faced in the seventh, his final inning of work.
“Having this experience, I wish I could go every single inning of every single game,” said Strasburg, who received a celebratory shaving cream pie in the face from a teammate after the game. “It’s a blast.”