Bucs marvel at Strasburg's polish
Pirates hitters tip cap following righty's 14-strikeout debut
WASHINGTON -- Heading into Tuesday night's game against the Nationals, the Pirates did not want to talk about the hype surrounding Washington rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
They wanted to see for themselves if he was worth the billing.
But after Strasburg dominated Pittsburgh in a 5-2 Nats victory before a sellout crowd of 40,315 at Nationals Park, the Pirates had their answer.
Strasburg gave up two runs on four hits and did not walk a batter in seven innings. He set a Nationals record for strikeouts in one game with 14 and tied a team record with seven consecutive strikeouts.
In addition, Strasburg's total of 14 strikeouts was the second highest by a pitcher making his Major League debut.
"He was very, very good," said Pirates outfielder Lastings Milledge, formerly of the Nationals. "There was a focus on his fastball and we wanted to attack the fastball, but he never really gave us anything we could drive. He was so good with commanding his offspeed [pitches] and putting away righties with his changeup."
Andrew McCutchen said the 21-year-old Strasburg's ability to pick spots was his most impressive quality.
"His location was the best part," McCutchen said. "He was able to get ahead I don't know how many times. I can probably count on my hand the amount of times he got behind, and I think one of them was on the first at-bat."
Throughout the night, Strasburg utilized his fastball -- constantly thrown in the mid- to high 90s -- to blow away Pirates batters. He also mixed his changeup and curveball nicely to keep Pittsburgh on its toes.
The only blemish on the young pitcher came in the fourth inning, when Delwyn Young hit a two-run home run, scoring Neil Walker from third to give the Bucs a 2-1 lead.
Strasburg responded in the fifth inning with two strikeouts and forced Jason Jaramillo to ground out to first baseman Adam Dunn. Strasburg then struck out all six batters in the sixth and seventh innings.
McCutchen said he felt Strasburg got better as the night progressed, which made him tougher to hit.
"He just settled down, probably fed off the fans," McCutchen said. "You could see when the fans were getting into it, he was getting into it as well."
Neil Walker agreed that Strasburg appeared to get tougher once he got into a groove.
"He got in a comfort zone," Walker said. "He got to a point where it seemed like everything coming out of his hand was a pitch that was in a good spot in the zone. When you're throwing fastballs for strikes at 96-99 mph from both sides of the plate with a good curveball, you have to hit your pitch."
Strasburg's velocity never dropped, even in the later innings. In fact, it often increased.
Four of Strasburg's final six pitches were 98 or 99 mph. Facing his final batter of the night, the right-hander used two curveballs -- both strikes -- to set up a fastball that flew past the bat of Andy LaRoche.
"I think the results speak for themselves -- he's a dominant pitcher," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He throws all of his pitches for strikes, and his offspeed [stuff] really complements his fastball. He's a very dominant-type pitcher, and obviously he did a great job tonight."
Greg Rosenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.