OK, maybe we didn’t know how good those pitches were beforehand. Last month when Strasburg was pitching for Double-A Harrisburg at Reading, his repertoire of pitches was not as good as the stuff he had on Tuesday night. In other words, the kid is getting better.
Still, the moments that stood out the most to me all involved Pirates outfielder Delwyn Young.
Young, 28, spent his first full season in the majors last season where he slugged seven homers with 43 RBIs in 124 games. This season Young has been used as a second baseman and a right fielder where he has appeared in 43 of the Pirates’ 58 games, posting modest to poor stats. The most subpar amongst those numbers is the four walks and the .275 on-base percentage mostly coming from a guy who gets most of his plate appearances batting out of the No. 7 spot in the order.
At least when he doesn’t come off the bench.
Nevertheless, Young’s legacy as a ballplayer just might come down to his two-run homer in the fourth inning off Strasburg at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. It was that shot into the first row of the right-field seats that were marked down not just for the first home run off the kid, but also as the first two runs.
Now the interesting part wasn’t the home run itself as much as it was the machinations behind it. For instance, Young belted just the 13th homer of his career and his third of the season simply by dropping the bat head on a pitch that was thigh high. In the instances where such a swing sends the ball into the seats, the pitcher typically has thrown a fastball in a spot where the equipment, not the ferocity of the swing, does the damage.
Obviously, Strasburg could become prone to allowing homers since his 100-mph fastball supplies all the power.
But the thing about the homer Young hit off him was that it came on Strasburg’s changeup. Make that a 91-mph changeup, but a changeup nonetheless.
Often, a pitcher’s changeup is only as good as his fastball. With guys like Cole Hamels, Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, three pitchers with the best changeups ever, the most important part is that all of those guys could bring the heat into the mid-90s. When they throw the change there is a significant difference for the hitter looking at a pitch going 95 to 85. In fact, often that difference is crippling to hitters. Pedro is known as one of the greatest pitchers in history because of that drop-off in velocity between pitches.
But when a guy throws one 100-mph and comes back with a 91-mph changeup, the difference is somewhat negligible. Only a good guess will help a hitter against a fastball as rapid as Strasburg’s, while his changeup is more like a pedestrian fastball. If he misses with a changeup like he did with Young in the fourth inning, he’s going to get hurt.
So if there is a flaw in his pitches it’s that Strasburg’s changeup is way too fast.
The other interesting part of Strasburg’s debut was that the media presence dwarfed that at the Wachovia Center for the Stanley Cup Final. Both ESPN and the MLB Network did pre- and post-game shows from the field, including a segment on ESPN that featured Young on the set still in uniform after the game. Strasburg was so good that the one guy to interview from the Pirates was the guy who walked into a bad pitch and hit it out. Had it been Strasburg’s fastball instead of his changeup, it’s doubtful Young would have been asked to sit with the ESPN crew.
The final intriguing part about Tuesday’s game was what happened after Young hit the homer. From that spot in the game, Strasburg faced 10 hitters and retired them all. He got eight of those outs on strikeouts including whiffs against the final seven hitters of the game.
Yes, it was Young that forced Strasburg to stop goofing around with pitches like 91-mph changeups when it was clear no one could hit the 100-mph heater and wiffle ball-like hammer.
There’s your moment Delwyn Young. Enjoy Pittsburgh.