Strasburg's affinity for strikeouts may be hurting development
Perhaps no pitcher in baseball history had a more anticipated debut than Stephen Strasburg. Billed as a once-in-a-generation arm, Strasburg was not only a former No. 1 overall draft pick who possessed precise command of an upper 90s fastball and plus off-speed pitches, but no similar talent had debuted in such a media-saturated era.
The hype was immense. Yet during his debut June 8, 2010, against the Pirates in Washington, Strasburg exceeded the hype.
Strasburg struck out 14 Pirates over seven innings, allowing two runs. Lastings Milledge whiffed on a fall-off-the-table curve to end the first. Ronny Cedeno had no chance against a 91 mph Strasburg changeup (yes, changeup) in the second, and Jeff Karstens but could do nothing but watch, or perhaps just hear, a 101 mph fastball buzz the outside corner in the fifth.
It was a remarkable first impression. But it was a debut Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he believes has negatively affected Strasburg.
“I thought all along one of the things that hurt ‘Stras' early on was when he struck out 14 the first game he was up here,” Johnson said. “He's still leaning toward missing bats rather than (pitching to contact).”
Nearly three years later, Strasburg again faced the Pirates on Saturday. This time it wasn't hype hovering over the right-hander, it was this question: What's wrong with the former wunderkind? Strasburg is 1-4 this season.
Strasburg led major league starting pitchers with 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings last season, when he was controversially shut down in September as a precaution in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. He entered Saturday with the highest strikeout rate among starters in MLB history (10.88).
But nearly three years after his debut against the Pirates, Strasburg has yet to pitch into the eighth inning of a major league game. He logged seven innings Saturday, allowing five hits and four runs while striking out eight. He threw 95 pitches. His inefficiency is discussed as much as his electric stuff.
Strasburg entered Saturday throwing only 57 percent of first pitches for strikes, ranking 74th among major league starters. Though his fastball velocity has declined from a 97.3 mph average in 2010 to a 95.5 mph average this season, his stuff remains elite. Still, he has been surprisingly hittable — he's often falling behind batters. Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes hit his first home run of the season off Strasburg on Saturday. Starling Marte also homered.
“It goes back to (focusing on) missing the bat,” Johnson said. “The toughest guys I ever had to face threw the ball in the strike zone early enough that you didn't get to see many pitches. As a hitter, the more pitches you see that miss the zone, the more your timing gets better.”
Johnson said the Nationals have preached to Strasburg about pitching more to contact. The Pirates have delivered a similar message to their staff, which entered with the fewest innings pitched by starters in the league.
Strasburg said he felt he made progress Saturday. He said his arm felt fine after feeling some forearm tightness during his last start.
“I feel like in the past if I gave up that many runs, usually I'd have over 100 pitches through six,” Strasburg said. “I just try to do a better job of pounding the strike zone.”
Johnson said it's important to remember Strasburg is still just 24.
“What a lot of people don't realize is that he's still very young in his big league career,” Johnson said. “He's still learning.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Blue Jays’ Martin has ‘nothing but praise’ for former Pirates teammates
- Surgeon to examine Pirates’ Cumpton after pitcher experienced elbow discomfort
- Rossi: Fitting in will be Kang’s biggest hurdle
- Pirates special instructor Tekulve taking second chance to heart
- Pirates notebook: Hart ‘down a few days’ after cutting foot
- Pirates notebook: Tabata rediscovering his power
- Spring training breakdown: Pirates 8, Blue Jays 7
- Pirates willing to consider high salary to keep star McCutchen
- Pirates notebook: Infield prospect Hanson used to playing elders
- Lincoln tries to rejuvenate career in second stint with Pirates
- Ex-Brewers star Hart hopes to prove to Pirates he still can play