Strasburg dishes on first two weeks in bigs
Nats' rookie phenom meets with media Wednesday in Detroit
DETROIT -- It's a scene that will be repeated in cities around the Major Leagues this summer: The desire of media members to speak with Stephen Strasburg is extreme.
So even though the Nationals' rookie righty isn't pitching during this three-game series in Detroit, he met with the assembled media Wednesday afternoon in a session that largely reviewed his first two weeks in the Majors.
On whether he has been able to get into a routine since his Major League debut on June 8: "I wasn't expecting any special [treatment] once I got up here. But I have been able to pick up on some things both mentally and physically. I've looked at how certain pitchers attack hitters. I've learned that hard work pays off."
On throwing to future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez during his first two starts: "He has amazing knowledge. I'm trying to learn from him as much as I can. ... He keeps me nice and relaxed."
On how he has handled the media and fan attention: "I'm just not trying to get too high or too low. I think [all the attention] has been more enjoyable for my family than for me. I'm not playing this game for notoriety. I've just loved to play the game of baseball my entire life. ... Regardless, I have to be able to pitch on the road and if it becomes another big spectacle, that's great."
Regarding his enjoyment in watching other Major League pitchers: "I'm excited to watch [Justin] Verlander tonight. I try to be a fan of different pitchers and apply some of what I see to my game. I watched a lot of guys growing up, but it's different now playing against them. ... I did enjoy watching Jake Peavy and Trevor Hoffman growing up in San Diego. When I can, I still try to watch those guys."
On personal goals or statistics he wants to reach this season: "The important thing is trying to help the team win games."
Regarding what he has learned through two games in the Majors and how he handles working on a strict pitch count: "You have to pound the strike zone. Up here, everyone is a good hitter and they will hit mistakes. I'm not changing anything as part of my routine."
Perhaps two of the funniest things Strasburg has said since he joined Washington were uttered Wednesday. When asked what he did that afternoon in Detroit, he mentioned going out to a local mall and lunch. And when asked if anyone recognized him, Strasburg replied, "I was there with Pudge [Rodriguez], so that kind of gave it away. I think people put two and two together."
Finally, when asked what his favorite thing was about being a Major Leaguer, he replied, "The food is great." He went on to mention crab legs, shrimp and other options as part of a pregame meal. In the Minors, the pregame meal often consisted of "tuna salad and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Morse takes advantage of limited at-bats
DETROIT -- Michael Morse welcomes playing in American League ballparks where the Nationals have a chance to use a designated hitter, likely giving him more at-bats. With the way he has been hitting lately, that's a good thing.
Morse hit his second homer of the season in Washington's 7-4 loss Tuesday to Detroit and is batting .400 this season.
The problem for Morse is that there simply is nowhere to play him on a regular basis as long as the Nationals are playing in National League parks. Adam Dunn is the starting first baseman, Josh Willingham is the starter in left and Roger Bernadina will get most starts in right. Those are the three positions that Morse could play. Yet the rookie knows his place and realizes that having such depth is a good thing for Washington.
"I understand my position with the team," Morse said. "We have a great ballclub with some veterans in those positions. I'm in a bit of a tough position, so it just means that I have to take advantage of my opportunities."
To ensure that Morse puts himself in a position to take advantage of his playing time, he is spending extra time in the batting cages and getting as many at-bats as possible against "live arms."
"The way I try to approach it is as if I am starting every day," Morse said. "That's how I come to the ballpark, thinking I will start. Mentally, I want to be as tired as the guys who play and I pay close attention to the pitchers and what they are doing even if [I'm on the bench]. I want to feel as tired as if I played, so I really get involved in the game and prepare myself physically and mentally."
Manager Jim Riggleman admits that he would like to get Morse additional at-bats, but he also wants to maintain some consistency where possible in the Nats' lineup. But after Morse homered Tuesday night, it is getting progressively more difficult to not pencil him in.
"Right now I don't have a place to put him on a regular basis," Riggleman said. "But I am trying to find at-bats for everyone. Yet I also want to put the same seven or eight guys out there on a regular basis in the lineup so they can get hot together [offensively]," Riggleman said.
Top two spots in order get flipped
DETROIT -- It's not the first time Washington manager Jim Riggleman has done it this year, but on Wednesday, Nyjer Morgan was batting leadoff and second baseman Cristian Guzman hit second. There was no particular reason for the move, except the skipper admitted he is trying to find a hot hand.
"There's no real magic there," Riggleman said. "At times, it might have to do with us facing a left-hander, but that's not the case [Wednesday against righty Justin Verlander]."
That approach can be largely explained by Guzman's splits this season. The second baseman is hitting .375 against lefties and .261 against righties, one of the larger disparities in the Majors for everyday players.
One encouraging sign from Tuesday's loss was Morgan stealing two bases after getting singles in his first two at-bats. Morgan is 14-for-24 in attempted steals this season, and both he and Riggleman hope that percentage improves.
For Morgan, being able to steal bases and manufacture runs -- as he did in the first inning Tuesday when he had a bunt single, stole second, went to third on a throwing error and scored on a sacrifice fly -- is important to helping kick-start the Washington offense.
"It helps us to show opposing teams that we are coming out ready to play," Morgan said. "It's one of those things that winning teams do. I'm just trying to go out and play my game, and stealing bases and making things happen at the top of the lineup is part of my game."
Confidence is an important part of stealing bases, Morgan said, but confidence is important in anything related to baseball, including hitting and fielding. His recent success came against Detroit catcher Gerald Laird, who is known as one of the best throwing catchers.
"[The stolen bases] were probably more on [Detroit starter Max] Scherzer than Laird because he has a pretty high leg kick even coming from the stretch," Morgan said. "You don't often see that high of a leg kick in the National League."
Detroit manager Jim Leyland on Stephen Strasburg: "When they have that horse pitching out there, they're as good as any team in baseball on that day." ... Pitching coach Steve McCatty expressed no long-term concerns with the recent struggles of starter John Lannan, who has allowed 10 earned runs and 20 hits in his past two games, covering nine innings. "When you're going good as a pitcher, you trust everything you do. But when you're struggling, you tend to nibble or overthrow. One thing I can tell you is that [Lannan] will never quit. He works hard." ... The Nationals have played 49 games in American League ballparks since the start of 2005. During that time, their designated hitters are batting just .233 with four homers and 16 RBIs.
Mike Scott is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.