SAN DIEGO–Stephen Strasburg has become a bit of a mythical figure early in 2008. Scouts and opposing coaches speak of him in hushed, almost fearful tones, shaking their head at the ease with which he lights up radar guns. Some scouts who saw him beat San Diego last week say his fastball topped out at 98 mph (and reached 97 in the eighth inning), while others swear he was up to 101. I’ve heard multiple scouts invoke the name Mark Prior when talking about Strasburg’s frame, stuff and even his command–and in these parts, that name carries an especially revered aura.
But we didn’t get to see Strasburg at his best tonight against Cal Poly, after he took a line drive off his foot in the first inning. He had his ankle taped up and remained in the game, and he sat in the 95-96 mph range in the first two innings and registered strikeouts with an 81 mph power breaking ball and a 94 mph heater in the second. The Mustangs got to him for three runs in the third, highlighted by Logan Schafer’s two-run double to center field on a hanging slurve, but he bounced back in the fourth and ended the inning on a called third strike on a 78 mph breaking ball over the outside corner. He went to his breaking ball much more often starting in the fourth inning, and it ranged from 79-86 mph. He did not hold his fastball velocity deep into the game like he did a week ago, working in the 91-93 range over his final three innings. He left the game after six innings, having allowed four runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out five.
"I think (his foot) was bothering him most of the night, but he was being a real trooper," San Diego State coach Tony Gwynn said. "He wanted to keep going out there, and he gave us all he could, and he battled for six innings . . . You feel really good when he’s out there, because he wants the ball and he wants to perform and pitch well. Even under circumstances where he didn’t have his best stuff tonight, he was still very competitive, he was competing out there, and he had the lead when he came out."
One thing to keep an eye on is San Diego State’s catching situation. Sophomore catcher Matt Parker is out for the season with a stress fracture in his right ankle, and tonight freshman Brett Tanos struggled to catch Strasburg’s quality stuff. Tanos had two passed balls, and Strasburg had two wild pitches that a more experienced catcher might have prevented.
"Poor Brett behind the plate was trying his best to just keep stuff in front of him and just getting pummeled back there–and we still won. We found a way to win," Gwynn said.
The Aztecs, meanwhile, continued their recent torrid hitting, batting around in a six-run first inning. SDSU carried an 8-4 lead into the eighth inning before Poly rallied for four runs to tie the score, but Troy Hanzawa’s RBI triple following a two-out walk to Tanos in the bottom of the inning propelled the Aztecs to a 9-8 win. Hanzawa finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a couple of dazzling defensive plays at shortstop.
The biggest story for San Diego State, however, might be freshman right fielder Cory Vaughn, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, making him 11-for-18 on the season. Vaughn, whose father Greg was a teammate of Gwynn’s with the Padres, pulled two singles through the left side of the infield, then stung a hard line-drive single into right-center field in the fifth. A terrific athlete at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Vaughn has good raw power, speed and arm strength, but Gwynn has been struck most by the aggressive way he plays the game.
"Cory Vaughn, for a freshman, he’s been impressive," Gwynn said. "He continues to spray the ball around and run around the bases. He’s raw, he’s a very athletic guy, but the biggest factor for me is his dad was a major league player, and he’s talked to his dad about these situations, what to do. I don’t know long he can keep it up, but boy oh boy oh boy, he’s been impressive."
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