Tuesday, March 09, 2010

That Was One Wicked Pitch

Brent Dlugach's knees buckled as the 81 mile per hour breaking pitch dipped in over plate for called strike three. Stephen Strasburg then pumped his right fist in triumph as many in the crowd of 4,305 at Space Coast Stadium stood and cheered. The Pied Piper Of Our Washington Nationals had saved his best for last. A wicked off-speed pitch, not the 98 MPH heater everyone was expecting to get himself out of harm's way in a two out, two runners on jam against The Detroit Tigers. The final and 27th pitch Strasburg would throw this Tuesday afternoon--his Professional Season Debut of Spring Training.

That was some mighty fine pitching with runners in scoring position.

Stephen Strasburg was not perfect today. And he is not going to be most every day. The expectations from some are just too high. But that didn't keep a media throng from inundating Viera, Florida to record each of every step of Our Number 37's Spring Start. Wherever Strasburg stepped publicly today--the cameras and reporters followed. The site of nearly 200 folks (reporters & fans intermixed) lining the railings overlooking Washington's Bullpen--amazing to witness. Everybody twisting and turning their bodies to get a glimpse of The Number 1 Overall Pick in The 2009 Amateur Draft.

When Strasburg jogged out to stretch, the media watched--so did his teammates.

When Stephen threw long toss--the cameras clicked.

When Our Number 37 warmed up from the bullpen mound--Pudge Rodriguez watched and the cell phone cameras participated.

Even as Stephen Strasburg walked from Washington's Bullpen to the home dugout before the game began--everyone followed.

And don't forget the throng that gathered behind home plate to witness his first two warm up tosses before Home Plate Umpire Paul Nauart signaled "PLAYBALL!!"

The game hadn't even started, yet the circus atmosphere surrounding--sorta surreal. MASN showing the game live. Every major baseball media outlet in attendance. And Our Washington Nationals wearing home white uniforms with red trim. And The Detroit Tigers wearing their regular season away jerseys, too.

You wanna bet Stephen Strasburg is glad this day has now passed?

Nonetheless, Strasburg handled today's moments well. Undoubtedly nervous--as any rookie would--his 98 mile per hour first pitch fastball thrown to Detroit's Austin Jackson was well off the plate. In fact, many of his fastballs missed the target set by his catcher today--Wil Nieves. Undettered though, Stephen Strasburg showed a composure on the mound few 21-year-old's possess.

He wasn't rattled by giving up two straight singles in the top of the second inning. He didn't back down to the powerful Miguel Cabrera--whipping in that wonderful off-speed breaking pitch he possesses to The Tigers Clean Up Hitter as a set up for his 98 mile per hour fastball. A heater Cabrera whiffed at--striking out--never touching the baseball--not even close. Strasburg also threw a 91-mile per hour change-up.

The high velocity fastball first brought attention to Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State University. His pitching prowess displayed professionally today the very reason so many scouts rate him so high. Strasburg not only showed talent at his Space Coast Stadium Debut, but a head on those broad shoulders to take the best advantage of those god-given gifts.

Yet incredibly, Stephen Strasburg wasn't the best pitcher out on the mound in today's game. That honor goes to The Detroit Tigers Rick Porcello--who was in command of his sinker. The tall righthander had his "bread and butter" pitch moving for three innings. Just one fly ball knocked by Washington in the 10 batters who faced him. Having never seen Detroit's 2007 Number 1 Draft Pick pitch previously--Porcello was impressive too.

Unfortunately, once both Strasburg & Porcello were removed early from their starts, the game itself lost most of its luster. With all the anticipation now in the past, a typical spring game ensued-with plenty of personnel changes. Another in which more poor early season pitching and a lack of clutch hitting by D.C.'s team led to another pre-season loss.

Final Score from Space Coast Stadium where Stephen Strasburg made his long awaited Spring Debut and didn't disappoint--The Detroit Tigers 9 and Our Washington Nationals 4. Yes, Washington has lost seven straight to begin their training camp games--but all anyone will really remember from today is Number 37 on your Washington scorecard. Stephen Strasburg walking out on the field, warming up, heading to the mound to make is First Big League Professional Start. The expectations could not have been higher, yet Stephen Strasburg impressed not by blowing every single hitter away--but by proving he can pitch out of trouble. That final 81 Mile Per Hour breaking ball thrown to end the top half of the 2nd inning was a thing of beauty. A quality pitch from a young man just beginning his professional career--not one that has the experience of a 10-year veteran.

That Was One Wicked Pitch!! I can still see Dlugach's knees buckling.


Game Notes & Highlights:

Strasburg threw 27 pitches, 15 for strikes. His breaking ball by far his best today. The Tigers Don Kelly (who had three total hits for the game) slapped the first base hit off Stephen--a single in the top of the second frame.

Miguel Batista & Tyler Walker were not impressive today on the mound for Washington. Batista allowing two runs in as many innings. Walker even worse--six runs on eight hits and two homers allowed in 1.2 innings. Not good. Detroit's rightfielder Magglio Ordonez and centerfielder Austin Jackson absolutely crushed two deep home runs off Walker in the 5th and 6th innings. Jackson--a key acquisition from The New York Yankees in the Curtis Granderson trade between the two clubs last winter--clubbed a titanic blast that flew well over the wall in deep centerfield--just to the right of the green shaded batters eye. That's power.

Nyjer Morgan showed the skills today needed by Washington at the top of their lineup. A beautiful bunt single followed by a stolen base. Later, a slapped single followed by another stolen base. And each stolen base finishing with Nyjer sliding feet first into second base. Apparently, taking to heart, Our Manager Jim Riggleman's desire for Morgan not to slide head & hand first into any base after Our Number 1 broke his hand doing just that last season at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Speaking of Morgan, Chicken Man and Lisette made their first appearance at a spring game for Our Washington Nationals today. Hugh not only wore his Regina Pats Nyjer Morgan hockey replica jersey worn by Nyjer during his hockey playing days in Canada--but brought along a second exact replica to present to Morgan himself--which Chicken Man did before today's debut of Strasburg.

Did you know former Washington National Kory Casto is now in Detroit's Camp? We didn't, but got a kick out of seeing Kory pinch hit late in the game today.

Before the game, The African Queen and I were outside Space Coast Stadium watching some of Washington's players go through a typical practice. What was not typical was seeing both Mike Morse and Pete Orr putting on the catching gear and taking hard throws from a pitching machine manned by Harrisburg Manager Randy Knorr.

Orr told us his reason for donning the gear: "In case there is an emergency need, I want to be ready."

Morse's answer was even better: "Anything it takes to make the team." No question Mike Morse can flat out hit, but has no true position. So it makes sense Morse finds as many ways as possible to be considered useful.

And finally--we spent today's game sitting with Nationals Season Ticket Holder Luis and his son, Alex, five rows from the field next to Washington's dugout. That closeness gave us a nice advantage in seeing how strong Ryan Zimmerman's forearms have become over the past few seasons. That young man has been lifting those weights and it's clear his strength has grown. No wonder The Z-Man is so quick getting his bat around--from set position to driving a pitched baseball. What forearms!!

PS--After making its rounds in the ballpark, NatsTiki was located at the main exit as Sohna and I were leaving Space Coast Stadium this afternoon.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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