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Strasburg shines in final tuneup

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, June 4, 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Before his breathlessly awaited, hyper-hyped Washington Nationals debut against the Pirates next week in D.C., 21-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg had one more opportunity to prove he's ready for the big leagues.

Memo to the Pirates: He's ready.

Facing the best hitting team in the International League, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander yesterday occasionally fought his command for the Syracuse Chiefs, the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate. But he still was effective with his arsenal of fastballs in the high 90s, changeups in the low 90s and baffling curveballs. In five innings, he yielded no runs and three hits, striking out one batter in each inning with one walk in the Chiefs' 7-1 victory over the Buffalo Bisons.

Strasburg, already weary of the questions (just wait) or media-trained to a point beyond blandness (or both), had little of note to say about his performance.

"I definitely wanted to go out there and hopefully pitch well enough to get a W," he said, pretty much reaching his light-shedding limit.

Others were more revealing.

"What impressed me most was that he could throw any pitch, any count, and he's gonna be successful because of that," said Buffalo center fielder Jesus Feliciano, the league's top hitter (.386), who went 1 for 3 off Strasburg but grounded out with two on and two out in the fifth inning.

"He impressed me," said Bisons manager Ken Oberkfell, a former infielder who played 16 seasons in the majors. "He had very good movement on his fastball, and he has good breaking stuff. He's major-league."

He must be, because he thoroughly trashed the minors. Strasburg, whose fastball reached 99 mph, went 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A. With Syracuse, the numbers were 4-1 and 1.08.

Next are the Pirates on Tuesday at Nationals Park, nearly one year to the day he was picked No. 1 out of San Diego State.

"He is exceptionally prepared" for his debut, Syracuse manager Trent Jewett said. "I think everyone in the organization feels that way. I think he feels that way. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be going. He is a well-armed young man."

Expected to pitch to a full house for the Nationals, Strasburg is box-office gold. He generated an announced crowd of 14,774 on a muggy weekday afternoon at 18,025-seat Coca-Cola Field, the largest minor-league ballpark in the country. The attendance exceeded that of three major-league games the day before.

When Strasburg came out after 89 pitches, near his prescribed limit, a good portion of the crowd also left. They had seen enough.

So, apparently, have a collection of newly relieved minor-league hitters.

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