CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Almost anywhere or anytime he pitches, Stephen Strasburg is the focal point of just about everyone in the ballpark. Thousands of eyes were fixed on him Wednesday afternoon when he pitched here against the Phillies and opposite Roy Halladay. Chilly winds be damned, folks came out to witness a rarity -- Strasburg in their city -- and an event, even if it was only a Spring Training engagement.
Had Strasburg not been pitching for the Nationals, he might have been in the stands fixated on Halladay. As it was, he admitted to concentrating on the Phillies' batters in the bottoms of the first four innings and on the Phillies' pitcher in the top of the frames.
Halladay, right-handed and powerful, is not necessarily Strasburg's hero or role model. But he clearly is the guy who lights the lights of the Nationals' wunderkind. "He's the one I really like to watch," Strasburg said.
He acknowledges the differences in their bodies, ages and mechanics. He isn't trying be Halladay so much as he's trying to be as successful as the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Not that it mattered all that much Wednesday, but Strasburg failed in that regard. He allowed two runs, five hits and a walk and -- pause for effect -- hit a batter in 3 2/3 innings. Halladay pitched four scoreless innings allowing two hits and a walk and -- second pause -- throwing one pitch behind Nationals DH Tyler Moore. Before either delivers a pitch with purpose, 3 1/2 weeks must pass. Little that happens on March 6 matters on or after April 1.
That said, Strasburg wasn't terribly disappointed by his work. The overused Spring Training line was applied one more time.
"I got my work in," so he was satisfied. He seemed sharp in the first inning which produced two of his six strikeouts. He said he was able to stay atop his breaking pitches.
But the dry wind and cool air made the ball slick thereafter. "Tough conditions," he said. "I kept hanging it."
He attributed the pitch that struck Chase Utley on his lower left leg to the conditions and essentially scoffed at the notion he had aimed to hit the Phillies second baseman who is one of the most often hit batters in the game. "It's Spring Training," Strasburg said. "I don't understand why they would think I mean to hit him.
"Obviously, you can tell the conditions weren't great and I yanked it in there. It's Spring Training. If you're going to throw at somebody or give a message in Spring Training, go ahead."
That tempest in a teaspoon aside, Strasburg was pleased to speak of his monitoring Halladay. "I grew up in San Diego. I used to watch Jake Peavy. He was so good. But Roy Halladay...he's special. I want to be as successful as he's been and one of the things he does is work so hard."
Strasburg doesn't know Halladay well enough to exchange anything more than a glance and acknowledgement. "He's on the other team," he said. Perhaps those words are a reference to a seed of animosity that some believe has developed between the defending National League East champions and the team that won the previous five division championships.
But he spoke without any other facial indications. He'd be happy just to watch Halladay do his work. There will be time enough for the two to get to know each other.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less