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02/20/09 9:20 PM EST
Strasburg leads Gwynn's Aztecs to win
Young San Diego State right-hander lives up to preseason hype
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
COMPTON, Calif. -- There's plenty of hype that comes along with being named college baseball's preseason player of the year, but San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg proved that he is as good as advertised in the season opener against Bethune-Cookman on Friday. Strasburg struck out 11 batters in 5 2/3 innings and allowed just three hits and one unearned run in the Aztecs' 6-3 win in the first game of the Urban Invitational Baseball Tournament at MLB's Urban Youth Academy. But Bethune-Cookman didn't make it easy on him, as he threw 105 pitches and issued two walks after walking just 16 batters last season. "I thought he was throwing the ball good, but they made him work," said Aztecs head coach and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. "They didn't just hack at the first pitch. But you figure that's what teams are going to do." The tournament, which also features the University of San Diego and Southern University, spotlights Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by giving them national exposure. But Strasburg also got plenty of exposure in front of the many scouts at the game, with his fastball consistently clocked in the 90s along with his biting slider and devastating curveball. Strasburg, who pitched for the U.S. in the Beijing Olympics and is considered to be the top prospect in June's First-Year Player Draft, simply overpowered the Bethune-Cookman hitters, striking out at least two batters in five of the six innings in which he appeared. His control was seemingly his only problem, as he had a high pitch count in nearly every inning and also hit a batter. "I didn't think everything would be on with control and all that, so I was expecting it," Strasburg said. "I just worked on slowing things down and making my pitches." His only blemish came in the sixth, on a run-scoring single by Chris Brown after a runner advanced to second base on a passed ball. The run was therefore unearned, and Strasburg was removed after the single. Strasburg's counterpart, right-hander Hiram Burgos, was also overpowering, striking out seven, but he endured a difficult second inning in which he allowed four runs, including a leadoff home run by designated hitter T.J. Thomas. Cory Vaughn, son of longtime Major Leaguer Greg Vaughn, also had an RBI in the second inning and came around to score. "We did a lot of things good in the second inning, but we couldn't cash in on opportunities later in the game, but I kind of expected that with a young team," said Gywnn, whose team features just four starters with Division I experience. Burgos collected himself after the inning and lasted 5 2/3 frames, allowing five runs on nine hits while hitting two batters. "He got frustrated because he was leaving balls up, but he settled down. I think the adversity helped him in the later innings," said Bethune-Cookman head coach Mervyl Melendez. Bethune-Cookman battled back with two runs in the seventh inning and had the tying runs on base before Alejandro Jimenez grounded out to second to end the rally. San Diego State added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single by Easton Gust, who reached base all four times he came to the plate. Addison Reed earned the save for the Aztecs. The game was the first of five to be played at the Urban Youth Academy as part of the second annual Urban Invitational. The event also features a college fair on Saturday as well as a battle of the bands. The tournament concludes with Bethune-Cookman and Southern squaring off on Sunday at 1 p.m. PT. "I think it's awesome," Gwynn said. "It gives the small schools a chance to come out to California and play some top schools, and it gives kids in the neighborhood a chance to see what college baseball is all about. MLB has really focused on the inner cities, and to be asked to be a part of it was a great opportunity for us."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.