Bucs can't catch up to Strasburg's heat
Young's homer Pittsburgh's lone highlight in loss to Nationals
WASHINGTON -- The Pirates wanted nothing more than to spoil the highly anticipated Major League pitching debut of 21-year-old Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night.
A standing-room-only crowd, national-television audience and more than 200 members of the media were just part of the pomp and spectacle that greeted Strasburg during this game at Nationals Park. In the end, Strasburg lived up to the high expectations by setting a Nationals record with 14 strikeouts over seven innings, including the last seven he faced. Strasburg threw 65 of his 94 pitches for strikes and also did not allow a walk in the Nationals' 5-2 victory in front of a raucous crowd of 40,315 that roared after every strike.
"He's good -- I think the results speak for themselves," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He's a dominant pitcher. He throws all of his pitches for strikes. He is really confident with his fastball. He's a very talented pitcher, and obviously he did a great job tonight."
Strasburg's fastball stayed around 99 mph, and his curveball consistently hit 83 mph, which kept the Pirates off balance. The Bucs were familiar with Strasburg because their Double-A affiliate in Altoona, Pa., had some success against him. Altoona lost its first game against Strasburg, 6-4, when he allowed only one earned run. In a second meeting, the Curve ended his night after 4 2/3 innings by scoring four runs on six hits and three walks in a 6-1 victory. In all, Altoona scored eight of the nine runs and had 10 of the 13 hits Strasburg allowed in Double-A play.
The Pirates weren't nearly as successful.
"He got into a comfort zone early," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. "He hit good spots in the zone. When he was throwing fastballs from 96 to 98 mph on both sides of the plate and with a good curveball, you have to hit your pitch."
In the sixth inning, the Nationals took a 3-2 lead on a two-run home run by Adam Dunn that was immediately followed by another home run by Josh Willingham, who made it a 4-2 game. That was all of the offense Washington would need against the struggling Bucs. Entering Tuesday, the Pirates were tied with the Astros for the worst batting average in the Major Leagues at .237.
Pirates starter Jeff Karstens had been effective before giving up the back-to-back home runs, and he was replaced by Evan Meek. Karstens pitched five-plus innings, allowing nine hits with no walks and no strikeouts.
"It was just another start for me," Karstens said. "I wish it could have turned out the other way, but unfortunately it didn't. All of the other hoopla was not for me, so I didn't have to worry about any of that. I just needed to go out there and give my team a chance to win, and in the sixth inning, I let it go."
The Nationals took the lead in the first inning when Ryan Zimmerman hit his 12th home run to right-center field off a cutter thrown by Karstens. Pittsburgh struggled early against Strasburg, striking out six times in the first three innings. The Pirates eventually settled down and took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Delwyn Young's third home run of the season. It was only the second home run allowed by Strasburg at any level this season.
Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche compared Strasburg's pitches to something players usually see from a power-pitching closer. LaRoche was 1-for-3 with a strikeout.
"We knew he had great stuff," LaRoche said. "We respected his fastball and his curveball. We knew he had put up some great numbers. He's got good stuff. We knew it was going to be a battle out there."
The Nationals came close to taking the lead in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Roger Bernadina, but Lastings Milledge threw a strike from left field to get Willingham at the plate. Pittsburgh leads the Major Leagues with 17 outfield assists this season.
"He was very good, very poised," Milledge said about Strasburg. "I tip my cap to him. He had great location and spotted the ball well. He never really gave us anything to drive."
Todd Karpovich is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.