By John Perrotto
Washington DC — Considering the site of Tuesday night’s game and the futility of their plate appearances against baseball’s latest phenom, who just happened to live up to all the hype, it would be easy to say that the Pirates played the role of the Washington Generals to perfection in their 5-2 loss to the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.
Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 in seven innings and 96 pitches in his much-anticipated major-league debut. Thus, the Pirates certainly made like the Generals, the perennial patsy of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Yet Nationals manager Jim Riggleman went out of his way to praise the Pirates’ hitters in his post-game press conference.
“You’ve got to give the Pirates credit,” Riggleman insisted. “They were up there battling against a lot of pitches that were 99-100 mph.”
However, the Pirates ultimately proved to be of little match against Strasburg’s heater, his gravity-defying curveball or his 90-mph changeup.
After getting their three of their four hits off Strasburg in the fourth inning, including a two-run home run by Delwyn Young, the last 10 Pirates the 21-year-old faced were set down in order, including the final seven by strikeout.
All the Pirates hitters could do were shake their heads in amazement as they kept parading from the batter’s box back to the dugout.
“He was very good, very poised,” left fielder Lastings Milledge said. “The kid had great, great location. Coming in, we were focused on his fastball but he didn’t really give us anything to drive. He was so good with off-speed stuff and putting away righties with his changeup. There are a lot of things to be excited about this kid.
“He’s a much different pitcher than anybody I’ve faced. There’s more to it than just his fastball, it’s the way he commanded his curve that was really impressive to me.”
Of Strasburg’s 94 pitches, 65 were strikes and 43 were thrown outside the strike zone. What Strasburg did on those 43 pitches outside the zone was telling both about him and the Pirates’ lack of plate discipline.
They chased 16 of those pitches, including 10 of 19 with two strikes, for 37 percent. The average major-league team chases 23 percent of pitches outside the zone this season, according to figures from InsideEdge.com.
Furthermore, the Pirates missed on 18 of the 41 pitches they swung at for 44 percent, more than double the major-league norm of 20 percent. They swung and missed on 12 of 19 two-strike pitches and 14 of 22 pitches when Strasburg was ahead in the count.
Finally, the Pirates were able to put just 10 of the 41 pitches they swung at in play for 24 percent. The major-league average is 42 percent.
They connected on just 2 of 19 two-strike pitches, 1 of 22 pitches when Strasburg was ahead in the count, 7 of 26 fastballs, 2 of 9 curveballs and 1 of 6 changeups.
Said Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche: “He had great stuff and we came in respecting his fastball and curveball. You can see it watching on TV, watching in the stands and obviously you can look at the radar gun and the numbers he’d been putting up in the minor leagues and pretty much see the big curveball he’s got. I’m pretty sure anybody who has seen him pitch is respecting his stuff. I know we are.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates since 1988 and is the editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist for the Beaver County Times