CHICAGO - See what I did there?
Stephen Strasburg learned something today. But it wasn’t anything relating to hitters’ tendencies or specific pitch sequences that he should focus on in the future.
The Nationals righty learned that Chicago can get a little breezy.
“I knew it was called the Windy City but I didn’t really think about it,” Strasburg said. “I knew it was going to be pretty cold but I didn’t realize how windy it would be.”
Now he knows.
Although he battled the conditions a bit, Strasburg’s first Chicago experience was a positive one. Scheduled to only go five innings, Strasburg ended up working seven frames, allowing just one run on five hits. He struck out five Cubs hitters and at times dominated his opponents, blowing them away with a dazzling array of 96-plus mph four-seam fastballs, sharp changeups and two-seam fastballs that dove in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
“He was great,” manager Davey Johnson said. “His command wasn’t as good as I’ve seen it in the past, with the cold weather. He didn’t have a good grip on his breaking ball, didn’t throw a lot of quality breaking balls. But he made a lot of good pitches, kept us in the ball game.”
Strasburg was able to work deeper into the game than Johnson had expected because the Nationals’ starter kept his pitch count so low. The righty threw just 28 pitches through his first three innings of work, and finished his outing needing just 82 pitches to complete seven frames.
The 23-year-old is starting to learn that opposing hitters are going up looking to swing at fastballs early in the count, so he’s beginning to mix in more offspeed stuff on the first and second pitches of at-bats. If he shows he’s able to throw his breaking pitches for strikes early in the count, it will go even further towards making his opponents uncomfortable in the batter’s box.
The offspeed stuff was impressive, but Strasburg’s two-seam fastball was especially filthy today, given the conditions.
“I don’t think they ever like the ball in on their hands, but more so today,” Strasburg said. “If you break one guy’s bat, all the other guys in the dugout are going to be watching that, so they’re going to be a little more honest.”
“On a cold day like today, it’s just about impossible for an offense to feel comfortable against him,” reliever Brad Lidge said. “When he’s throwing fastballs in on people, it’s over.”
Strasburg, who truly appreciates the history and tradition of the game, talked leading up to today’s start about how excited he was to pitch in Chicago for the first time. He said he didn’t get let himself get too fired up leading up to the game, but enjoyed the pomp and circumstance that came with opening day at Wrigley Field.
“It’s just a lot of fun going out there, being in somewhat of a hostile crowd but at the same time, fans that know the game,” Strasburg said. “To think about all the Hall of Famers that have played here, it’s an honor.
“I think being in a park like this with all the history, the fans were awesome and it’s just a fun atmosphere. I really enjoyed it.”