In front of an over-capacity crowd of 7,877 in the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Minor League affiliate, Strasburg was pretty much as good as advertised during his debut. Over the course of his 82 total pitches, Strasburg comfortably hit 97-98 mph with his fastball and froze several hitters with nasty breaking stuff. He even added a few outstanding changeups to boot.
After his first inning, it wasn't clear that he'd make it as deep into the game as he did. He threw 23 pitches in the first frame, giving up a run. It was clear that the circumstances, and his not pitching for seven days, caused him to be a little bit up in the zone.
"I definitely was super excited," Strasburg said. "There definitely was a lot of anticipation for this outing. I went out there, from the get-go, I knew I was moving a little too quick out there. I had the adrenaline pumping. I was able to settle down and keep the team in the ballgame. Lucky enough, the bats came alive."
"It'd been a while since he'd been out there," Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin said, adding that it'd had been seven days since Strasburg had faced hitters. "He was pumped up and strong and got that first inning out of the way. Then he settled down and made some great adjustments, especially within himself. He was able to stay in control of himself and get back to pounding the zone."
Strasburg threw eight pitches in the second inning, all for strikes, including two strikeouts. It was the start of the right-hander retiring six in a row, four by strikeout.
His counterpart on the mound, Pirates prospect Rudy Owens, looked as if he might make that early 1-0 lead stand up, putting up zeros through the first four innings. Strasburg's fourth, however, did not go as well. An error on a possible double-play ball by second baseman Michael Martinez opened the floodgates. The Curve scored three times, all unearned runs, to put Strasburg in a 4-0 hole. On the plus side, Strasburg notched a pair of strikeouts when he caught two Altoona hitters looking on terrific breaking balls.
"At the beginning, Stephen was a little anxious," Senators manager Randy Knorr said. "Once he settled down, he threw the ball very well. We didn't make a couple of plays behind him. It made him throw a few more pitches, and he battled through it."
And then he helped himself out in the top of the fifth, lacing an RBI double over the right fielder's head and scoring. Strasburg spent three years under the tutelage of San Diego State coach Tony Gwynn, but never could get the Hall of Famer to let him swing the bat in college.
"I don't know what it is," Strasburg said with a big smile. "Three years being with Tony Gwynn. He didn't give me an opportunity, but I'm sure he's eating his words right now. It was great. I'm definitely going to call Gwynn up and let him have it."
Strasburg finished his work with a perfect fifth inning, then handed it off to his bullpen. The Senators scored twice in the top of the sixth, then added an insurance run in the ninth to give Strasburg a 6-4 win. Fellow first-rounder Drew Storen, No. 10 overall, picked up his first save of the year by getting the last four outs of the game, a combination the Nationals hope to see many times in the future in Washington.
There were many who felt that's where Strasburg should have begun his career, in the big league rotation. But now that he's gotten his first start out of the way, Strasburg himself sees the value of beginning his career right here.
"You're facing a lot of guys you're going to be pitching against in the big leagues for years to come," Strasburg said. "As a baseball player, you like to say you're playing at the highest level possible. Right now, there's things I need to work on and there's things I need to improve on. I'm going to focus on that right now. Hopefully, my time will come soon."
If this wasn't the big leagues, Strasburg definitely got a small taste of what that will feel like. There was a palpable buzz both in the crowd and the clubhouses prior to the game. As much as Strasburg wants to just be one of the guys, it's clear he's growing accustomed to the added attention.
"I don't think anything really surprises me anymore," said Strasburg, whose debut resulted in over 70 media credential requests. "It's kind of to be expected. I try not to focus on that stuff too much. All I can say it's great you guys wanted to televise this game so my family could watch it back home in San Diego. Other than that, I'm just another guy on this team. We're all out there trying to win a ballgame.
"It was a great atmosphere. It's an amazing feeling to have your first outing in front of a sellout crowd. All the attention and everything. It made it seem like this is one of the biggest games of my life when it was actually the fourth game of the season."