Nearly two months after receiving the largest signing bonus for a drafted player and four months since he last pitched in a game, Stephen Strasburg was everything the Nationals expected in his professional debut Monday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium.
The right-hander held the Detroit Tigers' instructional league team to one run on three hits over two innings while striking out two batters. Strasburg, who entered the game with a 40-pitch limit, was happy to be pitching in a game for the first time since his final collegiate start on May 29.
"It's something that I love to do, and to not be able to do that for three months or so has been a little tough," Strasburg said. "I'm just happy to finally be out there and get my first two innings of professional baseball."
Strasburg did not waste any time recording his first strikeout, punching out the first batter he faced. The left-handed-hitting Gustavo Nunez stared at a fastball on the inside corner before walking back to the dugout as Strasburg's first strikeout victim.
"I threw the first 25 pitches of my career, and I just really wanted to go out there and work on fastball command and get used to having the adrenaline out there again," Strasburg said. "That's the big difference from throwing bullpens. You don't have that extra adrenaline in the bullpen. I was able to throw a lot of fastballs, work on my command, mix in a few breaking balls and sinkers, and it all seemed to work out really well."
Avisail Garcia became the first professional player to record a hit against the top pick from the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. The outfielder singled to center and later scored when Steven Moya punched a broken-bat single to left with two outs in the second inning.
"It was a fastball that I got in on his hands and broke the bat," Strasburg said. "I think in the second inning I started to tire a little bit. I was able to still make some quality pitches and they just found some holes."
Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams was pleased with how the 21-year-old remained composed throughout his first professional outing.
"I thought he threw the ball extremely well," Williams said. "He located the ball pretty good. Normally a kid that has his first professional outing is up in the zone and overthrowing, but he stayed within himself and did a nice job. He stayed composed, and I was very pleased."
Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of player development Bob Boone has been impressed with how Strasburg has performed in his time in Viera, and he feels the key to Strasburg's success is getting experience and making sure the organization is patient with his development.
"You can see that he's special," Boone said. "It's just a matter of him getting as many innings as fast as he can and us being patient. I think that's going to be the hardest part for us."
The Nationals have a plan in place to make sure they do not rush their talented prospect. Strasburg will make one more start in the instructional league before heading to the Arizona Fall League, which runs through Nov. 19.
"He'll go again on the 10th at Houston, and he'll go three innings on that day," Williams said. "Then we'll have a pitching coach, Paul Menhart, out there in Arizona monitoring him. AFL rules are five innings max, so we'll work him up to five and get him five every five or six days."
A strong performance in the Arizona Fall League will only prove to the rest of the country what Boone and the rest of the Nationals organization has known from the moment they selected Strasburg with the top pick.
"He's phenomenal," Boone said. "He's got a chance to be a star."
David Villavicencio is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.