Strasburg’s homer the talk of the clubhouse

Here was Stephen Strasburg’s day today: he allowed three runs in his first two innings, struck out eight overall, retired the last 10 hitters he faced, went 2-for-2 at the plate with his first major league home run, and was pulled after his manager learned he might not be completely healthy.

Just another day at the park.

We’ve discussed the health situation, so let’s move past that and touch on the rest of the stuff.

Strasburg might not have been showing much emotion right after he hit his first home run in the big leagues - he didn’t crack a smile until guys in the dugout forced one out of him when he was getting congratulatory high-fives - but he was grinning ear-to-ear when talking about the longball after the game.

“Shocking. That’s for sure,” Strasburg said. “I feel like in BP I’m swinging a lot harder to hit it out. I just ran into one.”

Believe it or not, following today’s performance, Strasburg is now hitting .375 and slugging .750 on the season. His batting average is tied for the highest in the majors among pitchers with more than five at-bats, and he has five extra-base hits (four doubles and a homer) among his six base-knocks on the season.

This comes after Strasburg had just one hit in 26 at-bats in the bigs entering 2012. So what can explain such a dramatic improvement?

“I got a buddy back home and he’s probably going to love me saying this, but I’ve got to give him some credit,” Strasburg said. “We took some swings in the cage this offseason, kind of helped my swing a little bit. And then obviously getting back here and working with (hitting coach Rick Eckstein) and taking rounds of BP, it’s kind of helped me just have a better feel for the bat. It was a while. I didn’t hit at all last year, really. And I feel a lot stronger. It doesn’t feel like I have a log in my hands.”

Strasburg’s teammates had a good time analyzing the hurler’s post-homer antics.

“We were trying to figure out if he was running full-speed or if that was his trot,” Adam LaRoche said of Strasburg’s super-slow stroll around the bases. “Not that I’m one to talk. I might need to race him. He might be the only guy on this team that I can beat.”

Strasburg’s all-business mentality as he rounded the bases and accepted congratulatory handshakes from his Nationals teammates couldn’t be further from how fellow starter Gio Gonzalez has reacted after he’s reached base this season. Gonzalez is constantly smiling while rounding the bases, even when he flops into third base on the most awkward slide in the history of Major League Baseball.

“I don’t know if Gio’s surprised that he got a hit or Gio enjoys it more,” Danny Espinosa laughed. “I think Strasburg just expects to hit. He’s a good hitter, he’s a good athlete.”

Now, of course, the expectations for Strasburg’s hitting will rise. His teammates are already projecting big things a couple months from now.

“I think Zim was joking, (Strasburg) needs to start in the All-Star Game and hit in the Home Run Derby,” LaRoche said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

As for his effort on the mound, Strasburg started off slow - much like his last outing - before hitting a zone starting in the third inning.

“It was almost like deja vu, especially after what happened the previous game,” Strasburg said. “I wanted to go out there and do a better job of not letting that affect how I attack hitters. It was nice to be able to go out there and adjust from it and keep the team in the ballgame long enough for us to put some runs on the board.”

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