Strasburg continues Triple-A scoreless streak
Right-hander strikes out nine over 6 1/3 innings for Syracuse
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Stephen Strasburg struggled with his control early but finished strong in his first Triple-A road start.
The Washington Nationals' first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft pitched into the seventh inning for the Syracuse Chiefs on Wednesday night and defeated the Rochester Red Wings to earn his third Triple-A win.
Strasburg struck out six of the final eight batters he faced in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. He finished with a career-high nine strikeouts and extended his scoreless streak to 21 1/3 innings, including all 18 1/3 frames he's pitched in Triple-A.
"We want to stretch him out, have him go deeper into the game, and let the opposing team see him for a third time through the order," Syracuse manager Trent Jewett said before the game.
"It's a travesty to say that he can improve when he's allowed one hit in his first 12 innings at this level," Jewett continued, "but your imagination can run wild. He has so much potential."
In the early going, Strasburg wasn't as dominant as in his first two starts for the Chiefs, as he struggled to find the strike zone with consistency. He threw first-pitch balls to his first five batters and had his two highest pitch counts of his brief Triple-A career in the first two innings of the game.
Coming into the game, Strasburg had retired the side in order in 23 of his 33 professional innings. He managed just two 1-2-3 innings in his 6 1/3 frames on Wednesday night.
Strasburg went to 2-0 counts on the first two batters of the game. After having just four three-ball counts in his previous two games, Strasburg walked batters in the second and third inning. Each batter advanced to third base before being stranded on inning-ending strikeouts. Strasburg also induced double plays to erase two Syracuse errors early in the game.
"It was good to see them there," Strasburg said of pitching with runners on base, "because that's part of baseball. They're going to be there sooner or later."
After allowing just one seeing-eye single in his first two Syracuse starts, Strasburg gave up three hits. Rochester shortstop Trevor Plouffe got an infield hit in the third, ending a streak of 10 2/3 hitless innings by Strasburg.
Jose Morales got a clean single up the middle in the fourth, and two other Rochester batters followed with hard-hit line drives that were caught. Jason Repko's slow roller up the middle in the fifth closed out Rochester's production against the right-hander.
"I hit a fastball," Morales said of the first hard hit Strasburg has given up in Triple-A. "I'd seen eight fastballs before that, which helped. After a while, I was picking it up pretty good."
"They squared up on some balls," admitted Strasburg. "I was trying to get early contact and let my defense play behind me -- let the hitters get themselves out. That was something I was working on tonight."
Strasburg settled down, however. He had a seven-pitch fourth inning and threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of his final 19 batters.
"The fastball was jumping out of his hand," Morales continued. "When we tried to cheat on it, he would throw that changeup. It's hard. His fastball was coming in at 98-99 [mph], and then that changeup comes at 89."
Strasburg hit 99 on the stadium radar gun four times, all in the first two innings, although he was still throwing at 96 and 97 mph in the sixth and seventh innings.
"I was impressed with the way he competed," said Rochester manager Tom Nieto. "At this time last year, he was in college. He had a couple errors behind him, and the way he was going tonight, I think he might not have been as sharp as in some of his other starts."
"He hung in there, though," continued Nieto. "When it came time to dig deep and let something go, he did."
Strasburg ended with a career-high 92 pitches, 60 for strikes, and left to a standing ovation from the road crowd in the seventh inning.
Strasburg shrugged off talk of his pending callup to the Nationals.
"I'm just going to get ready for my next start in Syracuse," he said. "The rest will take care of itself."
"I still need to work on command of all my pitches in the zone," Strasburg continued. "I need to work on my bulldog mentality, and I need to be better at identifying weaknesses of opposing hitters and trying to exploit them."
Washington plays at San Diego in nine days. Strasburg, a San Diego native, was asked if that would be an ideal place to make his first Major League start.
"I'm trying to get tickets for my dad," Strasburg said with a grin. "He'll be there. I don't know where I'll be."
Shawn Krest is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.