By: Katie Dowd
The Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon and the Pyramids all belong in the category of “Things That Have to be Seen to be Believed.”
Add Stephen Strasburg to the list.
If you frequent this site, I suspect you’ve heard of the kid named Strasburg. There’s talk he could be the greatest pitching prospect in the history of baseball. He throws upwards of 100 MPH with a filthy slider and curve ball. Oh, and he’s struck out 147 while walking 15 in 78 1/3 innings.
Strasburg graced Northern California with his presence on Friday night, coming up for a non-conference series against Santa Clara, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up for this Berkeley resident. So my most excellent friend Krister and I said a prayer to our nondenominational gods to stop the rain (it worked) and drove down to Stephen Schott Stadium to see the Great Stras.
We weren’t disappointed. Not even a little bit.
First of all, it should be known that Strasburg is a big dude. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 so obviously he’s tall, but he’s also got the build of a tight end. And that whole body, though large and solid, moves with effortless grace when he goes into the pitching motion. I don’t usually like to make a big deal about mechanics, but Strasburg’s are something to write home about. If you took him in isolation, removed the ball from the picture, you’d guess he was throwing maybe high-80s tops. He’s so smooth, and his arm looks like it’s barely straining. How he generates that kind of speed is something that I’d really like to know.
It was the first time in my life that I’ve heard gasps from the crowd during warm-up tosses. Watching Strasburg pitch, you immediately knew you were watching a singular act of athleticism by a pitcher. The fastball is good. It’s great. The speed alone attests to that. But then he gets you geared up for the fastball, and drops in an absolutely filthy curveball. For a strike. The Santa Clara hitters didn’t have a chance. Their knees were physically buckling.
But what really separates Strasburg from any other college pitcher I (or most people) have ever seen, is the level of artistry with which he’s already pitching. He knows how to set up the hitter and shatter their expectations. His control is so good that he can spot the fastball, curve and slider at will, and he understands how to mix his pitches mid-at-bat, mid-inning, mid-game. The hitter would get ahead 2-0, and Strasburg would change his approach. Try a slider instead of a fastball to get the guy swinging and finish him off with more off-speed.
Strasburg’s strength, then, is the age-old baseball cliche: staying within himself. When guys got on base, it wasn’t because they beat Strasburg. He just beat himself.
Katie Dowd is currently a sophomore at Cal where she is the baseball beat writer for the Daily Cal. You can check out her work at The Daily Cal by clicking here.