CLEVELAND -- Just call him Strike Three Strasburg.
Perhaps you expected this from a guy with a fastball in the triple-digits and a 12-to-6 breaking ball, but Stephen Strasburg has made the strikeout standard in his first two Major League starts. His collection of K's now stands at 22 after fanning eight Indians hitters in a 9-4 victory at Progressive Field on Sunday.
Hey, it's early, but that's 22 strikeouts in only 12 1/3 innings pitched against the Pirates and Tribe, good for a stunning 16.06 strikeouts-per-nine-inning mark.
"I'm just trying to execute pitches," Strasburg said after allowing a run on two hits with five walks and eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings Sunday. "I'm not worried about strikeouts. It's not always going to be that way. There will be nights when you rack 'em up, and nights when you have one or two. I'm just worried about making them swing the bats and put it in play."
They haven't put it in play much against the 21-year-old Strasburg. In fact, he became just the sixth pitcher in history to strike out 20 or more batters over his first two Major League appearances, and the first in 39 years. He joined Cliff Melton (22, 1937 Giants), Karl Spooner (27, 1954 Dodgers), Gary Nolan (20, 1967 Reds), Tom Griffin (20, 1969 Astros) and J.R. Richard (20, 1971 Astros).
Bob Feller had 20 strikeouts in his first two starts for the 1936 Indians, and Don Ferrarese had 21 in his first two starts for the 1956 Orioles, but both had pitched in relief beforehand.
Two starts does not a career make, of course, but the strikeouts at this infant stage of Strasburg's career are coming at an even more rapid pace than he was accustomed to in past performances against lesser competitors. He struck out 326 batters in 206 1/3 innings pitched at San Diego State (14.3 K/9 IP) and 65 batters in 55 1/3 innings in the Minors (10.57 K/9 IP).
Racking up K's
Starting pitchers with 20+ strikeouts through their first two outings
"He really prepared down there, had a lot of adrenaline going," Nats manager Jim Riggleman said. "But he's really got the adrenaline going here, too. He knows the challenge ahead of him."
The challenge might be to live up to the standard he's set for himself.
Strasburg (2-0, 2.13 ERA) nearly entered record-breaking territory in the strikeout department. He struck out the last seven Pirates batters he faced on June 8, then fanned Trevor Crowe and Shin-Soo Choo in succession to open the bottom of the first on this day in Cleveland. Had he struck out Tribe catcher Carlos Santana for the third out of the inning, Strasburg would have become just the third pitcher to strike out 10 consecutive batters faced, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Mets' Tom Seaver became the first in 1970, and the Dodgers' Eric Gagne did it in 2003
What was most impressive about Strasburg's early string of strikeouts was the control with which they came. He didn't walk a batter until issuing ball four to Santana in the fourth inning Sunday. By that point, he had already struck out 19.
According to Elias, only one other pitcher since 1900 has had more strikeouts before issuing his first career walk. You actually don't have to dig all that deep to find that historical precedent. It was the Reds' Johnny Cueto, who struck out 22 before issuing a walk in 2008.
"When a guy is throwing 98, 99 [mph]," said Tribe first baseman Russell Branyan, who struck out twice against Strasburg, "you don't have much time to be selective."
Strasburg's control began to unravel a bit after the Santana walk. He also walked the next batter, Travis Hafner, and he went on to issue five total walks in his 5 1/3 innings. That ran up his pitch count and led to a shortened outing. He had obvious issues with the mound at Progressive Field, twice requesting that the grounds crew repair his landing spot.
To Strasburg's credit, though, none of those walks led to runs. The only three runs scored off him through two starts have come from the long ball. Delwyn Young got him with a two-run shot in his debut, and Hafner launched a solo shot in the second inning of this latest effort.
The home runs are the one area where Strasburg has actually looked susceptible to big league hitters. He allowed just one solo shot in 11 Minor League games (0.16 HR/9 IP) and just five homers in his college career (0.22 HR/9 IP).
It's too early to read too much into any of these numbers. But to see a rookie pitcher come up and strike out Major League competition at such a rapid rate is rare stuff, indeed.
Strike Three Strasburg might not be making a concerted effort to rack up the K's, but they've become his norm.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.