Stephen Strasburg is human.
The baseball world learned that on Wednesday at Nationals Park, when the 21-year-old starting pitcher suffered his first major league loss at the hands of the Kansas City Royals.
But before you go placing the "I told you so" call to a friend, realize a couple things about Strasburg’s inaugural big league setback.
No. 1: Strasburg actually pitched very well.
He tossed six innings of one-run ball, allowing nine hits (all singles) while striking out nine and walking none. Most impressively, Strasburg threw 75 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
No. 2: The Royals, a punch line of baseball jokes for years, are an exceptional hitting team.
Their .280 batting average is the highest in baseball, and no club has roped out more hits than Kansas City’s 708. They’re also the second hardest team in baseball to strikeout (behind only the White Sox, who Strasburg racked up 10 Ks against in his last start).
“He was really good today,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “The number of runs that cross the plate is what matters. Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat to the opposition.”
While a lack of run support contributed to Strasburg’s loss, the Nationals’ inept offense couldn’t keep their ace-rookie from setting another major league record.
On his final pitch, an 83 mph curve ball that froze Scott Podsednik, Strasburg set the record for the most strikeouts (41) recorded in a pitcher’s first four big league starts. (The previous record was Herb Score’s 40 back in 1955).
What’s most amazing about Strasburg’s four starts is that three have come against American League opponents. But even against those superior lineups, Strasburg’s managed to allow just 19 hits in 25.1 innings.
In three starts at Nationals Park, Strasburg has fanned 33 batters. He’s walked the same number as you. Zero.
“I thought I did well enough,” Strasburg said. “The whole goal out there is to keep your team in the game.”
The stoic pitcher was once again as unflappable during his post-game press conference as he has been on the mound. His answers were short and to the point, and he didn’t crack a smile.
On multiple occasions he was asked questions that weren’t specific to Wednesday’s game. Each time, he deflected them like an NBA center defending the rim.
When asked how his new wife and family were reacting to his meteoric rise to stardom, he spoke as if he’d been grilled about his team’s loss. “We just couldn’t get it done today. We’re going to focus on today.”
Then, when asked what he thought about one of his trading cards selling for more than $100,000 on eBay, a visibly bothered Strasburg shook his head and replied, “Lets focus on the game here today. It was a tough loss for us. We’re trying to keep doing things right and get ready for the next game.”
Strasburg won’t be pitching – or fielding any questions from the media – again until early next week, when he’ll have his first encounter with fellow rookie sensation Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves.