In which Strasburg debuts and we blog about it…

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strasburg warming.jpgAs HardballTalk readers and baseball fans in general, you’re all well aware of the story by now. 

Selected No. 1 overall by the Nationals in last year’s first-year player draft, Stephen Strasburg has cruised through the minor league ranks with spectacular numbers at every stop.  In five starts this season at Double-A Harrisburg, he posted a 1.64 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 22.1 innings, earning a quick promotion to Triple-A.  For the Syrcause Chiefs he then rattled off a 4-1 record, a 1.08 ERA and a 38/7 K/BB ratio in six starts.

Now Strasburg is in the big leagues, and will make his MLB debut for the Nats tonight in the nation’s capital.  He has the luxury of facing a light-hitting Pirates team, but a sold out crowd of over 45,000 people in D.C. will present a kind of challenge that he has never before encountered.  Will he succeed?  Will he fail?  Will he allow two or three runs over six innings like any run-of-the-mill major league pitcher?  Stick with HBT tonight and we’ll all find out.  I’m Drew Silva and I will be your guide — your Strasburg Sacagawea.

This is the official Strastivus-Strasmas-Strasnzaa-Strassukah open thread.  Happy Holidays!

7:01pm: Strasburg was given a loud standing ovation on his way from bullpen warm-ups to the dugout.  First pitch is coming up in about 10 minutes, at which point the 40,000-plus fans that have filled Nationals Park will realize that they’re simply at an early-June baseball game.  Right?

7:04pm: The Nats seriously shot off fireworks as Strasburg took the field.  Seriously.  I think there was a guy waving a big flag as well.  What in the world is going on…

7:06pm: Strasburg’s first pitch was clocked at 97 MPH and called a ball.  Let it be written.

7:11pm: Um, wow.  Strasburg just burned Pirates outfielder Lastings Milledge with a 99 MPH fastball, a knee-crippling curve and a fall-off-the-table 83 MPH changeup for a three-pitch strikeout.  HE’S PERFECT THROUGH ONE!

7:12pm: As MLB Network’s Bob Costas notes, “The other team must have a starting pitcher.  It’s a rule.”  Thus, Jeff Karstens has taken the mound in D.C. for the Pirates.

7:14pm: Oh, and Karstens promptly gives up a solo home run to Nationals third baseman — and former Face of the Franchise — Ryan Zimmerman.  The Nats are up 1-0 through the first inning.

7:19pm:
Strasburg ran a 3-0 count on Pirates slugger Garrett Jones, but battled back with three straight 97-plus MPH fastballs.  Yikes.

7:22pm: The no-hitter is dead.  The perfect game is dead.  Strasburg just yielded an opposite-field single to Pittsburgh third baseman Andy LaRoche, once a highly-regarded prospect and now a .247/.312/.342 hitter on a bad Pirates team.  Ironic, no?

7:28pm: Strasburg struck out the side in the second inning with an array of nasty slurves, fastballs and changeups.  He’s thrown 30 total pitches, 18 of which have gone for strikes.  The Nats are expected to pull him right around 90. 

7:35pm: As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports notes, Strasburg threw a 90 MPH changeup in the second inning.  Karstens, the Pirates’ starter, hasn’t registered a fastball in the 90s at any point tonight.

7:40pm: This is incredible.  Really, just incredible.  Strasburg has fanned six of his last eight batters and the Pirates look absolutely hopeless.  Any major league team would.  The Nationals still lead 1-0.

7:44pm: Strasburg grounded out in his first major league at-bat and looked a little sluggish chugging down the line.  Let it be known that we here at HBT have spotted a weakness.

7:56pm:
Lastings Milledge, who played a forgettable season-plus with the Nats, is getting booed tonight in the nation’s capital.  Maybe there really are baseball fans in Washington.  Take that, Montreal.

8:01pm:
Welp, it appears Strasburg may be human.  He allowed three hits in the fourth inning, including a two-run homer to Pirates right fielder Delwyn Young, who shrugged off the hype surrounding Strasburg earlier this week:

“I really couldn’t care less, to be honest with you,” Young told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I got nothing to say, really. It’s just another pitcher. … Hey, Mark Prior.”

The Pirates lead 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth.  Strasburg has thrown 56 pitches.

8:14pm: After an impressive fifth, Strasburg is up to eight strikeouts and is still regularly hitting 99 MPH on the stadium gun.  He has tallied 70 pitches, though, so he will need to have an efficient sixth frame or the mass exodus at Nationals Park may begin.

8:23pm: The Nats failed to score a run in the fifth and still trail the Pirates 2-1.  I suppose Strasburg should start getting used to the lack of run support.  Bryce Harper, after all, is still a handful of years away.

8:27pm: Strasburg has faced 20 batters and struck out half of ’em.  That’s a total of 10 Ks, if you’re keeping score at home … and lack basic math skills.

8:28pm: OK, make that 11 Ks.

8:30pm: Strasburg has thrown 80 pitches through six innings, so he’s certainly capable of heading out for the seventh.  The sold-out crowd will want it.  I want it.  You guys want it.  Heck, Bob Costas wants it.  Everybody screeeeeeeeeaaam.

8:33pm: Nats first baseman Adam Dunn just crushed a two-run homer into the massive D.C. crowd.  Strasburg is now in line for the win with his club up 3-2.  Is this game reading like a fairy tale, or is that just me?

8:36pm: Nats outfielder Josh Willingham has joined the party with a solo charge to deep left field.  D.C. leads 4-2.  With that cushion, you have to wonder if manager Jim Riggleman will call it a night for Strasburg.

8:40pm: Costas just opined that Pirates reliever Evan Meek has been “anything but meek” this season.  You can’t write this stuff.  Wait, you can?  Check that.  You can, indeed, write this stuff.

8:44pm: All indications point to Strasburg coming out for the seventh inning.  He was in the batter’s box, ready to hit in the sixth and Nats reliever Drew Storen was warming up at a less-than-brisk pace in the bullpen.

8:46pm:
He’s out there!

8:49pm: Strasburg’s 85th pitch was clocked at 99 MPH and he just fanned the Pirates’ Garrett Jones for his 12th strikeout of the evening.

8:51pm:
He struck out the side on 13 pitches in the seventh inning.  That’s 14 Ks — a new Nationals franchise record.  Wow.  Just wow.

8:53pm: Strasburg is done torturing the Pirates for the evening.  He struck out 14 of the 24 batters he faced, and allowed only four hits and two earned runs in seven impressive innings.  He really only made one major mistake, leaving a pitch over the plate that Pirates outfielder Delwyn Young launched into the stands. 

The 21-year-old college and minor league phenom just became one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, at least in my eyes.  Everything he t
hrows is hard, and everything has tailing movement.  If Strasburg pitches every night like he did this Tuesday evening in D.C., we’re going to bear witness to some truly special performances, and maybe a special career.  He’s as good as advertised.  Heck, he’s better than advertised. And it would appear that the good people of Washington just found themselves something to root for in the summer other than a rain storm to break the dense humidity.

Collins worried David Wright might go on disabled list

Washington Nationals v New York Mets
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NEW YORK (AP) Mets manager Terry Collins is worried David Wright may wind up on the disabled list because of a neck injury.

New York’s captain and third baseman was out of the starting lineup for the third straight day Monday because of his neck. He was given anti-inflammatory medicine over the weekend.

Now 33, Wright was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24 last year when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He has a lengthy physical therapy routine he must go through before each game.

“With the condition he’s been playing in and the condition he’s in right now, yeah, I’m concerned about it,” Collins said Monday. “Is it going to happen? I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I know this guy plays with a lot of discomfort. He always has. And when he can’t play, he’s hurt.”

Wright homered in three straight games last week before getting hurt. He is batting .226 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely: