Apr 1, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
NEW YORK — It got lost in the shuffle amid the injuries to Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper and the late-game heroics by the Nationals, but Stephen Strasburg’s Opening Day start deserves to be revisited.
Strasburg was anything but crisp in his first outing of the season, especially early on when he allowed four quick runs and put the Nationals in a hole. But by day’s end, the right-hander displayed a trait not frequently associated with him: Guts.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” center fielder Denard Span said. “He didn’t lose his composure. To me, that’s what good pitchers do. Solid pitchers, they make a mistake, but after that they shut the door down.”
Strasburg did just that. He labored through the game’s first three innings, serving up a towering, 3-run homer to Andrew Brown in the bottom of the first, then letting the Mets push another run across the plate in the bottom of the second. His pitch count at 61, he was in danger of an early and abrupt exit.
But then Strasburg made a key adjustment. Struggling with his fastball command and recognizing the Mets hitters were pouncing on his heater, he decided to use the rest of his repertoire and not save those bullets for later in the game.
“I just started to pitch,” he said. “They came out swinging and didn’t really let me settle in. I said: The heck with it. I’m just going to go out there and throw everything I’ve got.”
Strasburg’s newly developed slider — a pitch he only began throwing competitively in spring training — suddenly became a go-to weapon. Clocking in around 87 mph, the pitch could easily be confused by batters for his changeup, which comes in at the same velocity but breaks in the opposite direction, or his curveball, which is slower and breaks on more of a downward plane.
Strasburg wound up throwing several effective changeups, including one that struck out David Wright in the bottom of the fifth.
“I think it kept them honest,” he said. “That’s kind of what I wanted to do.”
After needing 61 pitches to complete his first three innings, Strasburg needed only 41 to complete his final three frames. He retired 10 New York batters in a row, struck out 10 overall and — most importantly — kept the game within reach for his teammates, who ultimately did mount several late rallies to win in extra innings.
“The good thing about Stras today was, he settled in and gave us a chance to get back in the game,” manager Matt Williams said. “That’s what kind of pitcher he is.”
Strasburg departed his third career Opening Day appearance with a 6.00 ERA and zero quality starts on the young season, but he also departed feeling good about the way he turned a potentially disastrous outing into a quality performance.
“Obviously it didn’t start out the way I wanted it to,” he said. “But I settled down and kept it close, gave the guys an opportunity to get back in the game. It was awesome to watch.”
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