We'll do the normal post-game wrapup in a little bit, but I wanted to weigh in with some thoughts on Stephen Strasburg's first game as a big-leaguer.
It wasn't the best I've seen Strasburg look - his control was spotty at best, which had plenty to do with his nerves. He threw 15 of his 27 pitches for strikes, and his fastball crept up in the zone more than a couple times. That tends to happen with him from time to time, and once hitters learn to time it, the pitch could get whacked if it's up in the zone. But in the interest of being judicious with praise, I've started by picking nits. On balance, the Nats have to be very happy with the debut.
Here's what Strasburg did well: He came out throwing gas and challenging hitters. He got out of the first inning in seven pitches, and it was over so quick you almost wanted to see him get in a little trouble in the second just to see a few more pitches. That definitely happened in the second, when Don Kelly and Alex Avila punched back-to-back singles off Strasburg. Then Strasburg threw three straight balls to Brent Dlugach, before coming back with a pair of fastballs and a nasty 81-mph slider on 3-2 that Dlugach just stared at. Both the pitch, and the nerve to throw it on 3-2 with runners on first and second, are rare.
Strasburg's fastball was between 96 and 98 mph most of the day, and he had a two-seamer on the lower end of that spectrum -- but with a sharp downward break. His silder froze All-Star Miguel Cabrera, right before Strasburg struck him out on a high fastball, and his changeup - if you can even call it that - clocked in around 91 mph, also with a sharp break.
"It's the arm speed that sells it. If it looks like a fastball, that's what really sells it," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "He throws a changeup that's harder than most, and it goes straight down like a split. What a real problem - it's a little harder, and it works like a split. It's a tremendous pitch."
Now, for the other stuff: Strasburg handled the attention (more than 60 media members, by the Nationals' count) as smoothly as he's handled it all spring.
"I can honestly say it's not really earned, but it's something you've got to deal with," he said. "I haven't proven anything at the pro level. I look at a lot of big league players on this team who haven't had this attention. It's kind of a shame but it's out of my control and they know that."
He admitted he was nervous before he took the mound; McCatty had to remind him during his pregame warmups to breathe. The nerves were also evident in his delivery to the plate, which was a little more rushed than the Nationals would like. As he slows that down, you'll actually see his fastball gain speed. He said all the right things during his media session, when, as third baseman Ryan Zimmerman pointed out, "there's been a lot of times when he could have said the wrong things." There's definitely a sense among Strasburg's teammates that it's good to have this day in the past - if for no other reason than that it allows him to blend in again.
Zimmerman recalled his rookie year, when he was a September call-up in 2005 and the focus of plenty of attention as the Nationals' first draft pick. "I hated it," Zimmerman said. "You're so scared to do anything wrong, first of all, when you first get called up. You just want to sit in your locker and kind of blend in. And it's hard for him to blend in when there's 30 people at his locker every day."
The impression of Strasburg was just as strong on the other side of the diamond. Cabrera, who'd said he was champing at the bit to face Strasburg, had high praise for the right-hander (quotes provided by John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press):
"He's got good stuff -- a good arm," Cabrera said. "He's got a good chance for success in the big leagues. He's got a great arm, great action, great mechanics. His fastball was jumping."
Later, Cabrera told Lowe: "His fastball was jumping good. He's going to be good."
Lowe has more on the Tigers' reaction to Strasburg here. As I've said several times in this space, they don't make reporters or people better than him, and his stuff is a treat to read, no matter who you root for.
If you're looking for any audio on the Nats' side of things, you can find that here -- I've posted clips from Strasburg, McCatty and manager Jim Riggleman.
We'll get to see Strasburg again on Sunday against the Cardinals. His next two outings should actually be against St. Louis - here's hoping one of them includes a showdown with Albert Pujols.