In his first three Triple-A starts, Stephen Strasburg did not allow a run—earned or otherwise—while blowing away the more seasoned hitters in the highest minor league.
Monday night, in what promises to be one of his last tuneups for his major league duty, Strasburg got into trouble in two straight innings, allowing a pair of runs, including the first earned run against him in Triple-A. He ended up going just five innings and 52 pitches, his shortest outing since his promotion to Syracuse.
Strasburg mowed through the first inning on seven pitches, five for strikes, sitting the Toledo Mud Hens down 1-2-3. The big right-hander gave up a single in the second but stranded the runner without advancement.
In the third, however, leadoff hitter Deik Scram (seriously) grounded a ball down the first base line that went into the corner for a triple. Strasburg was able to retire the next two batters, but a 94 MPH sinking fastball got past catcher Devin Ivany, hitting the catcher in the foot, and the ball caromed to the wall, allowing Scram to scramble in to score an unearned run on a passed ball.
The fourth inning presented the biggest challenge Strasburg has faced since putting on a Syracuse Chiefs uniform.
Carlos Guillen, on an injury rehab assignment from the Detroit Tigers, seemed to rattle Strasburg. On an 0-1 pitch, Guillen stepped out of the box just before Strasburg delivered his pitch. Strasburg seemed taken aback, and the next pitch was low and inside to Guillen, who had to step back from the offering. Strasburg really wasn't the same pitcher after the exchange.
Guillen laced the next pitch to right field for a single. One out later, Jeff Frazier doubled to the left field corner on a change-up Strasburg left up in the zone, putting runners at second and third. Casper Wells then hit a slow bouncer through the hole between short and third to bring in Guillen. Strasburg bore down and got a called strike three to end the inning, then had a 1-2-3 fifth inning.
And with that, Syracuse pitching coach Greg Booker informed Strasburg his night was over, to his—and everyone else in attendance's—surprise. Strasburg's final line: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 K, 0 BB. 52 pitches, 36 strikes.
It was an abrupt and slightly strange end to his fourth Triple-A start. With his major league promotion looming, conventional wisdom would have Strasburg pitching longer, stretching him out in preparation to face big league hitters. Instead, he turned things over to the Chiefs bullpen.
If, as reported, it's the Nationals plan to have him pitch 150 innings total this season, 100 in the big leagues, Strasburg would only need one more five-inning minor league start. He's thrown 45.1 innings combined in Double- and Triple-A so far this season.
In four Triple-A starts, he's gone 23.1 innings, allowing two runs, one earned, fashioning an 0.39 ERA on 11 hits and four walks. He's struck out 27, good for 10.41 K/9.
It's widely speculated that Strasburg will make his major league debut Friday, June 4, against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park.