Strasburg wins his professional debut

Strasburg wins his professional debut

PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg made his grand professional debut on Friday night, pitching in the Arizona Fall League at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and his 3 1/3-inning scoreless outing may have been a preview of great things to come.

Strasburg, taken first in June's First-Year Player Draft by the Nationals, threw 50 pitches -- 32 of them strikes -- for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. He faced 11 Scottsdale Scorpions hitters, walked one, struck out two, allowed a pair of singles and earned the win in his club's 7-4 victory. The two strikeouts came with one out in the first inning and were of the swinging variety.

"It was a great feeling," said Strasburg, the 21-year-old right-hander and San Diego native who's slated to make his second start next Thursday afternoon at Peoria, against the Javelinas. "It was great to have a lot of my family come in from San Diego to watch this. It's been a long time since they were able to watch me pitch. This was the first time for me to be pitching in an actual [pro] game. I was extremely excited to be out there, and I can't wait to get out there and do it again."

It was Strasburg's third outing since he signed a $15.1 million contract during the final minutes before the Aug. 18 deadline. Including a pair of recent stints in the Florida instructional league, he's thrown 8 1/3 innings.

An appreciative crowd of 1,138 in the 7,881-seat ballpark -- more than double the usual Friday-night gate here -- gave Strasburg a rousing ovation as he left the game with one out in the fourth inning. He had allowed a lined single to center by Jose Tabata, who was erased at second on a fielder's-choice grounder before manager Gary Cathcart removed Strasburg from the game.

"He's very special," said Tom Romenesko, a former scout for the Astros and once the head of the Padres' Minor League development. "He brings up the intensity level of the rest of the players. There are not many guys who can do that."

Strasburg had been told beforehand that 50 pitches would be his limit on Friday night. He'll increase to 60 or 65 pitches on Thursday, and is slated to top out at five innings and 75 pitches by the time he makes six starts and the AFL championship game is played, on Nov. 21.

"Obviously, the pitching part of Stephen's first start was outstanding," Cathcart said. "But what I've liked about the kid since he's been here is his ability to handle the whole thing that is being thrown at him. The stuff that's being put on his plate about learning to deal with the media and be a professional pitcher is pretty extreme right now. I'm really impressed with the whole package, not just what you see on the mound."

Strasburg was nurtured during the electric atmosphere of his regular Friday-night starts this past college season for San Diego State at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

In his last home outing, on May 8, Strasburg threw a no-hitter against Air Force and whiffed 17 batters. Overall, he finished 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA, having struck out 195 in 108 innings while walking only 19. His lone loss came in the NCAA baseball regionals, to Virginia on June 1, when he allowed only two runs in a 5-1 loss.

"I definitely had the adrenaline going tonight," said Strasburg, who tossed 18 pitches in retiring the side in order in the top of the first. "Early on, I was wrestling the plate a little. I felt the same way before my first start in college."

For Strasburg, the next stop may be Minor League ball, but the last stop is pitching against the likes of the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and Dodgers' Manny Ramirez. That will be the real test.

"I haven't really thought about it," Strasburg said. "I really have a long way to go. I'm just thinking about the guys I have to face right now, trying to learn and get better. When that day comes, I'm sure I'm going to go after them, just like I'm going after these guys."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.