By Matt Michael
Syracuse, N.Y.—From his first pitch (a 96-mph fastball for a called strike) to his last (a knee-buckling curve for a called strike three), Syracuse righthander Stephen Strasburg looked like a man among boys in his Triple-A debut against Gwinnett Friday night.
Strasburg was so dominating, in fact, that his pitching line would have been the same if the game had been played on a Little League field, because the Braves didn’t hit one ball in the air.
Strasburg allowed one hit—a seeing-eye single up the middle—in six innings and earned the win as the Chiefs blanked the Braves 7-0 before a Syracuse franchise-record crowd of 13,766 at Alliance Bank Stadium. Strasburg also chipped in two RBIs on a run-scoring single in his first Triple-A at-bat and a sacrifice bunt that plated a runner from third in the fourth inning (though the play was not conceived as a squeeze play).
Of his 18 outs, Strasburg fanned six and recorded 12 groundball outs, most of which were slow rollers or choppers. Not one Gwinnett batter hit a pitch from Strasburg to the outfield, even in foul territory.
"If you hit your spots," Chiefs center fielder Pete Orr said, "it makes it tough on hitters to drive the ball to the outfield or hit the ball in the air."
Strasburg, the 21-year-old prized Nationals prospect, hit every spot with all four of his pitches Friday. He tossed 45 of his 65 pitches for strikes, and fell behind 2-0 or 3-0 only twice.
He threw 46 fastballs (darting two-seamers and a four-seamer that reached 98 mph), 13 curveballs, and six changeups. Not once did he shake off Chiefs catcher Carlos Maldonado.
"He was easy to catch, because I put the fingers down and he executed the pitch the right way," Maldonado said. "I’m just glad he’s pitching for my team."
Strasburg overpowered a Braves lineup that ranked 11th in the 14-team International League in average (.252) and runs scored (4.1 per game). The roster included five former big leaguers who entered this season with a combined .234 lifetime average at the highest level.
Still, a major league lineup would have had trouble with Strasburg Friday night.
"He’s got the complete package," Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage said. "He pounded the zone early in the count, but yet he threw his breaking ball when he wanted to for strikes."
The only blemishes on Strasburg’s pitching line were Gregor Blanco’s fourth-inning single that eluded Syracuse shortstop Eric Bruntlett, and a leadoff walk to Joe Thurston in the fifth.
In six minor league starts this season (including five at Double-A Harrisburg), Strasburg is 4-1, 1.29 with seven walks and 33 strikeouts in 28 innings.
"I felt pretty good," Strasburg said. "I’m just trying to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Trying to build off what I learned in Harrisburg and do it up here. I was able to do that tonight."
The Nationals have not set a timetable for Strasburg’s promotion to Washington. June 6—a home game against the Reds—is a good guess, which would give Strasburg five more Triple-A starts.
"He’s got pace of game, he’s got confidence, he’s got location, he’s got stuff, all he needs is experience," Chiefs manager Trent Jewett said. "Come watch while you can."
Matt Michael is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.
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