VIERA, Fla. (AP) Stephen Strasburg is more than holding his own against major league hitters. Challenging weather conditions aren’t intimidating the Washington Nationals’ top prospect either.
Strasburg pitched three scoreless innings and the Nationals fell to 0-10 in exhibition play with a 7-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.
Facing 30 mph gusts that affected hurlers’ windups, crouching catchers and everything in between, Strasburg accomplished something no other Nationals starting pitcher has done in a dismal spring: turn in consecutive scoreless outings.
A crosswind whipped his fastball out of the strike zone and sent his changeup darting into something resembling a Mariano Rivera cutter. Strasburg just breezed through the winds like they weren’t there.
“I thought he was losing his balance, but he did a great job,” Washington catcher Wil Nieves said. “I talked to him and I told him anybody can be successful when they’re feeling good, with good weather, a good situation. Good pitchers, they pitch good even if they don’t feel good that day or if, (like) today, if the wind is like that.”
Strasburg, the top overall pick in last year’s draft who signed a record $15.1 million contract, allowed two singles and a walk in his second spring training start. The right-hander threw 29 of 49 pitches for strikes, stretching his scoreless streak to five innings.
He struck out two – getting David Freese looking on an 80 mph breaking pitch to end the first – and threw first-pitch strikes to seven of the 11 hitters he faced. His fastball was consistently measured at 96-97 mph, and the 21-year-old flashed a nasty slider.
“It’s difficult to adjust to, especially when you’ve got a crosswind. It’s a little bit easier if the wind’s going with you. … You just gotta go out there and pitch with what you got and compete. Not every game is going to be perfect – 72 degrees, no wind a not a cloud in the sky,” Strasburg said.
Maybe one reason the wind wailing from right field to left didn’t faze him was because Strasburg is well acquainted with such conditions from pitching for San Diego State in the weather-challenged Mountain West.
Asked if he’d ever battled such wind, Strasburg said, “practically every away start,” adding that 45 mph winds were commonplace.
“He may not have been as sharp today, but it’s encouraging to see him put zeros on the board,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman.
Strasburg also drew raves from Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
“Every bit that’s been said about him, written about him, they got it all right,” La Russa said. “Very special. A lot of guys throw 96. It’s where he’s throwing it.”
Strasburg apparently has earned himself another start. Riggleman said the right-hander would take his normal turn Friday against a Cardinals split squad.
“We haven’t eliminated anything,” Riggleman said, when asked whether Washington would farm out its top prospect. “It’s going to be an organizational decision.”
As long as Strasburg remains in camp, it shifts focus from the Nationals’ abysmal record. Washington is baseball’s only winless team in spring training.
“I know it sounds bad, but who cares?” Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn said. “Really, who cares about wins and losses other than people who open up the boxscore and go, ‘Oop, (the) Nationals lost again?’ As long as we play good and for the most part everybody gets in shape and gets ready for opening day, that’s all that matters.”
Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright allowed two runs and three hits and two walks in four innings, matching the longest outing by a St. Louis starter this spring. He struck out two.
“I thought (Wainwright) did good, really good,” La Russa said. “His tough-to-hit pitch got better every time he went out there. I thought he was very impressive.”
Allen Craig’s RBI double broke a seventh-inning tie and reliever Tyler Clippard (0-1) allowed five runs in 1 1-3 innings. Right-hander Adam Ottavino (1-0) pitched two perfect innings.
Livan Hernandez, signed to a minor league contract earlier this month and invited to spring training to compete for a spot in the Washington rotation, worked three innings in his exhibition debut. The right-hander gave up two runs – one earned – and three hits, walked three and struck out two.
“The wind – sometimes I go up in my windup and started moving. I can’t do my regular windup. … Everything breaks too much and when the wind’s like that, it’s difficult to throw,” Hernandez said. “The wind was crazy today.”
NOTE: Nationals C Ivan Rodriguez was missing from camp for a second consecutive day, tending to a personal matter. The absence was prearranged with Riggleman’s blessing.