In which Strasburg debuts and we blog about it…

29 Comments

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.

A Twins player confronted a Twins announcer about what he said on a broadcast

TV
2 Comments

We seem to get a story like this from a struggling team every couple of years. This year it’s the Twins and the story is about words said by one of the Twins players to Fox Sports North broadcaster Dick Bremer. From Mike McFeely of WDAY radio, who spoke to Bremer recently:

Surprisingly, Bremer said one player has confronted him this season about being too critical of the team. Bremer wouldn’t name the player.

“I make it a practice to go in the clubhouse every day and go down on the field, so if a player has a complaint about something I’ve said on television they have that opportunity,” Bremer said. “I was confronted in the clubhouse in the last homestand. I didn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, ‘Well, play better and the commentary will be more positive.’ You can’t mask the fact this team is a quarter of the way through the season with 10 wins.”

The whole article is interesting because it gives several examples of Bremer and his colleague, Bert Blyleven, being critical. Depending on which instance — and there were likely many not mentioned here — blowback from players may have more or less justification.

On the one hand, simply saying a player executed a given play poorly or saying that the team was performing poorly is a simple fact. On the other, an example was given in which Blyleven questioned why Phil Hughes was taken out of a game. It was only later revealed that he was experiencing shoulder soreness, but it was suggested that Blyelven was questioning his toughness at the moment. I agree with Bremer that if the players don’t want to be criticized they should play better. But it crosses a line in my mind when poor play is used to imply poor or weak character, especially when not all facts are known. Not all situations are the same.

Overall, though, despite the complaint of this anonymous Twins player, I think local broadcasts are too deferential to the home team far too often. The broadcasters have seen more baseball than almost every viewer and in many cases played it. I don’t think it’s out of line for them to offer objective, informed criticism of bad play even if that’s out of fashion in today’s world. That they seem very clearly pressured by the clubs with whom their employers are partnered to do otherwise is a shame and does a disservice to viewers.

And heck. It’s boring too.

Ryan Vogelsong placed on the DL with facial fractures

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 23: Ryan Vogelsong #14 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is carted off the field after being hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Jordan Lyles #24 of the Colorado Rockies in the second inning during the game at PNC Park on May 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The Pirates have announced that starter Ryan Vogelsong has been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to facial fractures.

Vogelsong suffered the fractures yesterday afternoon when he was batting and was hit by a pitch by Colorado Rockies starter Jordan Lyles. Vogelsong, was taken off the field on a cart and admitted to a local hospital. A.J. Schugel has been recalled from Triple-A to take Vogelsong’s place on the roster.

The Padres National Anthem debacle explained

Petco Park
5 Comments

Outsports has what should be the final word about Saturday’s National Anthem debacle at Petco Park before the Dodgers-Padres game.

The upshot: it was not, not surprisingly, a homophobic conspiracy. Rather It was a series of unfortunate occurrences and dumb mistakes, once again validating the old saying about how one need not look to evil motives when mere stupidity can explain things. This is one of those times. Go read the post for the entire explanation. The short version of that is that, like a lot of anthem singers, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was to sing along with a backing tape of themselves performing the anthem. The DJ in charge of it played the wrong date’s backing tape. He played the one from the female singer the night before.

In addition, Outsports spoke with that DJ — DJ Artform — who is embarrassed by his mistake and by not doing anything to correct it in the moment. DJ Artform was a contractor and his relationship with the Padres was terminated.

So that seems to be that. Until the next thing anyway. There is always a next thing.

Cubs release Shane Victorino

shane victorino getty
6 Comments

File this under “not terribly surprising,” but Shane Victorino was released from his minor league contract with the Cubs yesterday after batting .233/.324/.367 through nine games with Triple-A Iowa. Victorino says he does not plan on retiring, however, and that he plans to try to latch on someplace else.

It’ll be a supreme long shot. Victorino, 35, Victorino suffered a calf injury during spring training and missed all of spring training. Last year he played in only 71 games between the Red Sox and Angels, and 30 in 2014 with the Red Sox. He was last healthy and effective in 2013. In a league where older players don’t do as well as they used to, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to find a gig.

If this is the end of the road for the Flyin’ Hawaiian, he’ll finish with a career batting line of .2750/.340/.425 with 108 homers, 489 RBI, 231 stolen bases and four Gold Glove Awards in 12 seasons. He also has two World Series rings, from the 2008 Phillies and the 2013 Red Sox. He was a two-time All-Star.

Maybe not the way he wanted to end his career, if this is indeed the end, but Victorino had a fine career while it lasted.