Facing the most powerful hitter on the newly rebranded Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton, Stephen Strasburg wowed the 5,000 in attendance at Roger Dean stadium last night with a 103 mph fastball set-up pitch followed up by a 76 mile per hour back-breaker for the strikeout. That 27 mile per hour drop in velocity summed up the first two innings of Strasburg's start Friday night, an outing that proved the unthinkable, the 23-year-old has added yet another, and perhaps even more deadily element of depth to his game.
Many pitching analysts will tell you that velocity is not as important as the ability to change speed. Balance is an important tool for a hitter and when that balance is disrupted as a result of poor timing, then hitters who are looking to drive the ball instead end up chipping it into play or swinging and missing entirely. Strasburg was initially very difficult for major league batters to hit because his stuff was overpowering and hard to distinguish in the short amount of time between when it left his hands and when it reached the plate. The result was there was not enough time for hitters to think about the pitch they were seeing, they were only able to react.
Now, hitters will have to be prepared for not only a fastball that can sit in the low 100's, but also an off speed pitch which can completely fall off the table. The result? Hitters will not longer be able to react to all of the power pitches Strasburg hurls into the zone, they will simply have to guess as to what terrifyingly accurate pitch might be delivered from his arsenal next.
Strasburg dominated his first two innings in front of an away crowd that was more than receptive to his talent and potential. From our seats, we we surrounded by Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs, and Marlins fans who were captivated by every pitch the former No. 1 overall pick threw. It's a powerful ability to make any crowd, even one that is just 5,000 large, sit quietly with the collective knowledge that they are observing something truly special.
Strasburg did suffer a rough third inning in which he botched a throw on comebacker to first, and continued to see the wheels come off a bit. After his bizarrely inaccurate throw to first, he failed to reach above 95 again on the gun, when he had previously sat comfortably in the high 90s in the early innings. This led those around us to be concerned that something might have been wrong. Strasburg, however, told the media after the game that his recently reconstructed arm was fine.
It will be interesting to see how many of these blemished stretches we'll see from Strasburg over the course of a full season. It is important to remember that while at times he may seem like the best starting pitcher in baseball, he is still only 23-years-old, has never pitched an entire major league season, and despite his stuff, still has a lot of room to learn and grow.