Strasburg Continues to Dominate in Minors
ROCHESTER, N.Y. - While coaching third base for the Rochester Red Wings on Wednesday night, Tom Nieto resisted the urge to look at the pitch speed sign behind him while Stephen Strasburg was pitching for Syracuse.
But with three decades in pro baseball, Nieto had a good idea what it read.
"It was easily 96, 97," the Wings manager said.
Reaching 99 mph four times with an effortless delivery, Strasburg wowed a standing-room-only crowd of 12,590 with a masterful performance Wednesday night at festive Frontier Field.
He allowed just three hits in 6 1/3 innings, with two walks and nine strikeouts as Syracuse won 5-1. The No. 1 pick in last June's draft threw 92 pitches - 60 for strikes - and fanned seven different Red Wings.
"He was pounding the zone," said Wings catcher Jose Morales, who had one of the hits. "And once we were sitting on that fastball, his change-up and curve were great, too."
The crowd was the 11th largest in Frontier history.
Strasburg, 21, was removed after striking out Danny Valencia to open the seventh. He fanned six of his final seven batters and has not surrendered a run in 21 1/3 innings.
He is 6-1 with a 0.89 earned-run average in eight minor-league starts, and hitters are just 17-for-137 (.124) against the right-hander.
"My arm felt really strong," the soft-spoken Strasburg said in a postgame news conference.
Strasburg's every move was followed by inquisitive fans, reporters from The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated and officials from the Washington Nationals, who figure to promote him to the majors in the next two weeks.
"This is all new to me," he said. "It's something I hope to have my entire career."
Strasburg received a standing ovation from the crowd when he walked to the third-base dugout after striking out Valencia, but many then booed when he didn't tip his cap.
"I was really focused and the game wasn't over yet," he explained. "I've never had a standing ovation in my life. I feel like I haven't done anything yet.
"Maybe in a game in D.C., if I'm having a good game, I'll tip my cap."
Hundreds left the ballpark after Strasburg exited, their sight-seeing expedition complete.
Strasburg's first 12 pitches were clocked at 96 mph or higher. He hit 99 three times in that stretch.
Strasburg walked two batters and two more reached on errors before Rochester's first hit. That came on an infield single by Trevor Plouffe with two outs in the third.
Third baseman Chase Lambin raced in, barehanded the ball and fired late to first. It was the first hit allowed by Strasburg in 10 2/3 innings. He stranded a runner at third base in both the second and third innings by striking out former big-leaguer Jacque Jones and Brian Dinkelman, respectively.
Syracuse chipped away, scoring single runs in the second and third and adding two in the fourth.
The Wings hit Strasburg hard in the fourth but had nothing to show for it. Morales lined a sharp single to center, Dustin Martin laced a fly to center that was hauled in and Valencia lined a scorcher down the third-base line that was back-handed by Lambin. Jones then grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
Nieto said he has never seen a pitcher like this.
"Not that young, not that fresh out of college," the former big-league catcher said. "He's obviously something special."
"He's going to have a bright future," he said.
Brock Peterson hit a solo homer for Rochester in the seventh, one out after Strasburg had left.
Strasburg was asked if he was having any fun, given the media attention.
"I'm pretty intense," he said, "but I'm having a blast."
Opposing hitters wish they could say the same.