Strasburg brings buzz to Progressive Field

Strasburg brings buzz to Progressive Field

CLEVELAND -- The splash surrounding Stephen Strasburg seems to be without precedent in baseball.

It has made what once appeared to be a routine Interleague series finale between the Indians and Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field a bona fide event. TBS picked up the game nationally, and curious fans are scooping up the available tickets.

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Then again, maybe we're just not thinking long and hard enough about great moments in past publicity.

"Didn't you hear about when I pitched in American Legion ball?" joked Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner.

Nah, we were right. The Strasburg hype is without precedent. And the Indians have found themselves right in the thick of it.

When the Nationals announced that Strasburg would be making his Major League debut June 8 against the Pirates, people on and around the Indians began talking about the intriguing possibility of seeing the kid in action against the Tribe on June 13.

But after Strasburg struck out 14 batters and didn't walk a soul in seven inspiring innings in his dominant debut, the question posed to Tribe players was no longer, "How fun would it be to face Strasburg?" It was something more along the lines of, "How do you face Strasburg without looking silly?"

Of course, Major League ballplayers are at this level for a reason. They have the baseball acumen to study a scouting report or watch a DVD and gain an understanding of approaches that may or may not be successful against certain pitchers. Over time, as Strasburg settles in and faces more and more lineups, the reports will become quite a bit more in-depth.

For now, though, the book on Strasburg reads more like a pamphlet. So word of mouth will have to do.

Shelley Duncan can help the Tribe in that department. Duncan's brother, Chris, played with Strasburg, but briefly, at Triple-A Syracuse before Strasburg's inevitable promotion. Chris shared his insights on Strasburg with his older brother. And while there are only so many pointers one can pass along when you're talking about facing a guy with a 100-mph fastball, a 12-to-6 hook and a changeup that stumps, every little bit counts.

"You can't get past how nasty his stuff is," Shelley Duncan said. "But I've got some good ideas of how to go about it. I'll pass those along to my teammates who are in the lineup, and hopefully they can come up with a solid plan. Because he looks pretty tough. It looks like, without a plan, it's going to be tough to put up a solid at-bat."

Yeah, you could say that. Or at least, the Pirates could.

Strasburg generally had his way with the Bucs' hitters, allowing two runs on four hits over seven innings. Every 1-1 count became a 1-2 count. And 94 percent of the two-strike counts resulted in an out.

The Indians saw the highlights. Everybody saw the highlights. So they have at least some idea of what they're getting into.

"It looked like he was rushing those guys," first baseman Russell Branyan said. "Throwing three or four quality pitches, and guys were panicking. We're going to have to zone him in and make him throw strikes if we're going to have any success. This is a guy with a plus fastball, plus curveball, plus changeup and plus cutter. He has a blessed arm."

Blessed arms are not difficult to come by at this level. Manager Manny Acta compared facing Strasburg with facing Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander or reigning Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke of the Royals.

"We're just going to have our hands full and deal with it," Acta said.

Shin-Soo Choo also made the comparison between Strasburg and Verlander.

"They're pretty similar," Choo said. "They can throw any pitch in any count at any time."

Purely from a stuff standpoint, however, it would appear Strasburg possesses some tools that even Verlander doesn't own.

"He's one of those guys who come around once every 10 or 15 years," Branyan said of Strasburg. "I'm sure he'll have no problem bouncing back [from his debut]. They were pitching him every five days in the Minors. It just looks like a guy we're going to have to try to pile up some quality at-bats on. Try to get his pitch count up and get him out after five."

Strasburg showed tremendous poise against the Pirates, despite the microscope he was placed under by the national media and the fans in Washington. The attention won't be quite as fever-pitched in Cleveland, though the Indians did report that they had sold more than 3,000 tickets to Sunday's game within 24 hours of Strasburg's debut. Several members of the national media will be credentialed for the game.

"With all that hype, to live up to it is just crazy," Tribe reliever Chris Perez said. "We'll see how he does on the road, though."

And the Indians, like the rest of us, are curious to see where Strasburg's career goes from here.

"Obviously, the kid is special," Acta said. "I hope he stays healthy so he can accomplish a lot in this game. We have a guy in the bullpen [Kerry Wood] who struck out 20 guys when he was a rookie."

Wood, of course, went on to endure a sobering string of injuries that eventually relegated him to relief work. He never did become the next Nolan Ryan, as some had forecast.

So that's a reminder that one start does not a career make. On Sunday, it will be time for Strasburg to make his second start, to take that next step toward living up to the exorbitant expectations that have been heaped upon him.

And for the Indians, a team that has struggled offensively all season, what's on tap is a tantalizing test. All around baseball, hitters will be wondering what it will take to hit this kid, and the Indians will get their shot to show them.

For now, the only guy who can claim success off Strasburg is Pirates outfielder Delwyn Young, who hit the two-run homer that provided the Bucs' lone runs on Tuesday night. Young, perhaps not so coincidentally, was the same guy who referred to Strasburg as "just another pitcher" before Tuesday's game.

"Maybe that's the secret," Hafner joked.

Maybe. But to those in the Indians' clubhouse, Strasburg has already done enough to command respect, not to mention attention. And on Sunday afternoon, all attention will be placed on their efforts to silence the splash surrounding Strasburg.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.