Feb 23, 2014, 4:11 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — There’s no rhyme or reason why certain batters face certain pitchers during live BP at Nationals camp. Matt Williams and his staff don’t try to set up particular matchups; they simply instruct a group of three outfielders or infielders to head over to an adjacent field and take their hacks against whatever pitcher happens to be on the mound.
So Brian Goodwin, Steven Souza Jr. and Michael Taylor didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they sauntered onto Field 2 outside Space Coast Stadium on Sunday. Then they saw him. Guy by the name of Stephen Strasburg.
“I looked over to the bullpen and said: ‘That guy over there looks pretty familiar,'” Goodwin said. “I actually had no idea going into it, but once I found out, it was pretty exciting.”
What ensued over the next 12 minutes wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Strasburg threw roughly 30 to 40 pitches, working on his mechanics and location. The hitters mostly just stood in the batter’s box and watched those pitches whiz by, only occasionally taking a cut.
But the experience, while mundane to the outside observer, was memorable for those three hitters, all of them prospects participating in their first big-league camp this spring.
“It’s exciting more than anything, the opportunity to face someone of the high caliber like Stephen is,” Souza Jr. said. “I enjoy it, because to see someone with that kind of stuff on the first day, it kind of sets the tone for the rest of camp and the pitchers you’re gonna face.”
And how did the ace right-hander look to someone who had never faced him before?
“Just good stuff, man,” Goodwin said. “Life on his fastball. Kept it down. He’s just going to make it tough on hitters, and then he’s got those secondary pitches that are just unbelievably good. You can just tell the guy works hard at what he does. He takes pride in being good at what he does.”
There were precious few swings during the live BP session. Catcher Koyie Hill, also in the hitting group, did manage to shoot a soft double down the left-field line. For the most part, though, guys in the batting cage didn’t want to take too many hacks against that arsenal.
“He already throws cheese, so when I’m in that turtle, it looks like about 109,” Souza Jr. said. “I’m more just trying to see the spin and the ball and get my rhythm off his rhythm. I’m just trying to get my feet underneath me in the box and kind of get everything settled. I’m trying not to look like a fool out there.”
All three minor leaguers managed to avoid that distinction while also getting something out of the experience. Strasburg, meanwhile, was glad to be able to face live hitters for the first time since September.
“You go the whole offseason with nobody in there,” the right-hander said, “so you just want to see where you want to start your pitches and what kind of movement you’re getting and see how the swings are. … I definitely ramped it up today. You always get in another gear when you’re out there pitching in a real game. So I put something into it today, got some good work in.”
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