Stephen Strasburg was dominant last night in his first start since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery almost exactly 12 months ago, shutting out the Dodgers for five innings.
Strasburg averaged 96.7 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball and 95.1 mph on his two-seam fastball, which is pretty amazing considering that Justin Verlander leads all big-league starters in average fastball velocity this season at 95.0 mph.
However, as hard as Strasburg was throwing last night it was actually slightly below his pre-surgery average of 97.3 mph. And that’s by design, as the former No. 1 pick told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:
I think I’ve come to the realization that I don’t have to throw 100 to get guys out. Fastball command, I think, is better than it was before. I think it’s just because I’m not trying to dial it up every time.
If the pitch isn’t well located, they’re still going to hit it. I’m still focused on commanding all the pitches, throwing strikes, climbing the ladder, working inside-outside. I’m really trying to be a pitcher out there. I’m not trying to go out there and light up the radar gun every time.
Of course, that’s easy to say when dialing things back a bit still involves throwing 96 miles per hour in your first big-league appearance in 12 months. And as Kilgore notes Strasburg topped out at 98.7 mph on an 0-2 fastball he blew past Aaron Miles.
Strasburg struck out four of the 17 batters he faced last night and also racked up 29 strikeouts in 20 innings while rehabbing in the minors. New ligaments and all, that’s one hell of an arm.
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.