Feller Not Overly Impressed by Strasburg
Bob Feller, who struck out 17 hitters and won 17 games when he was a 17-year-old rookie in 1936, admired the newest sensation from his usual perch in the Progressive Field press box. Stephen Strasburg looks good pitching for the Washington Nationals, Feller said, but there's a long way to go.
"Call me when he wins his first 100," Feller said.
No disrespect involved, mind you. Just reality. Feller and the Cleveland Indians saw a lot to like in Strasburg, who struck out eight and gave up just two hits in 5 1/3 innings, but he also returned a little closer to earth with five walks -- though he did not fully touch down.
Strasburg started the game with a 99-mph fastball, and did not go below 99 or 100 with the fastball the first inning. He struck out the first two Indians hitters -- Trevor Crowe on a 100-mph fastball, Shin-Soo Choo on a low-and-inside 99-mph heater -- to give him nine in a row going back to his first start.
Travis Hafner's line-drive home run to right in the second accounted for the only run Strasburg gave up, but he did leave the game in the fifth with the bases loaded -- thanks to a broken-bat single by Carlos Santana and walks to Hafner and Austin Kearns. Drew Storen got the Nationals out of the inning and preserved Strasburg's ERA.
His line score read 5 1/3 innings, two hits, one earned run, eight strikeouts and five walks. "The line score is not going to indicate how well he threw the ball," Washington manager Jim Riggleman said.
Perhaps it was the radar gun used by the Indians, but Strasburg hit 100 mph eight times (compared to twice in his debut). In his first nine innings of major league pitching (over two games), Strasburg struck out 18 and walked none (prior to the five he gave up in Sunday's game beginning with the third inning). Feller admired the work, but added: "I doubt he can field a bunt."
The Indians offered praise, but did not gush -- mainly because of the five walks. Center fielder Trevor Crowe said he expected Strasburg to go after more hitters. First baseman Russell Branyan said Strasburg was a little bit erratic and was helped by the Indians swinging at bad pitches in hitting counts.
"He's fine with his heater, but he has a quality change and a quality breaking ball," Branyan said. "That's three above-average pitches at such a young age. Does his heater have as much life as [Detroit's Justin] Verlander? Tough to say."
Strasburg admitted he was a little sloppy. Feller, who resides in Cooperstown, said Strasburg has "a good repertoire."
"He has a good career coming up," Feller said. "I understand he's very affable, but very quiet and is very conscientious. He'll be probably tougher for right-hand hitters than left-hand hitters. He loses about two or three miles per hour on his fastball with men on base, I noticed that on the radar. But that's typical. That's not unusual at all."
Feller, now 91, started pitching for Cleveland in 1936 when he was 17. By the time he was 21 -- Strasburg's age now -- Feller was in his fifth season. In that season, Feller won 27 games, giving him 82 (he won 25 the next before missing three years to fight in World War II).
"[Strasburg] has a good changeup," Feller said. "I never used my changeup to anybody, only left-hand hitters. But he has a decent changeup. His curveball breaks more than the average curveball. His slider is part of his repertoire, which is a good pitch to left-hand hitters, keep it on their fists.
"But he'll have a half-dozen or so hitters he won't be able to get out. Like me. We all have half-a-dozen or a dozen hitters who, no matter what you do, seem like they know what you're going to do and get their base hits."
Feller went on to say that Strasburg would have "good days and bad days."
"A big swinger is not going to bother him that much," Feller said.
During the sixth and prior to the bottom of the fifth inning, Strasburg complained about the mound because he was slipping when he strode. He twice asked grounds crew members to build up his landing spot. "I wish I could have handled it a little bit better," Strasburg said. "It kind of got me into a little funk."
Indians fans booed, but Feller shrugged, saying it was "not unusual."
"I've done that," Feller said. "But not between innings."
The Indians announced a crowd of 32,876, the second-biggest of the year. Cleveland sold 3,800 walk-ups for a game that would have drawn 15,000-to-18,000 total had Strasburg not pitched. Feller is aware of the hype that has surrounded the young pitcher.
"If you start believing all that hype and attention, that's the end of your career," Feller said. "You can't believe all that. It's 24-7 now on hype. Twenty-four-seven. But there's nothing wrong with that. All sports are show business now. Nothing wrong with it. The game itself in all sports is almost incidental to what goes on around it, in merchandising. It's a different world.
"He better not believe everything he reads about himself. If I had a bad day I would read about it. If I had a good day, I'd save the clipping."
Feller then added yet one more dose of realism.
"I think he's done very well; of course this is not the 1927 Yankees either," he said, nodding to the home dugout. "Or the Cleveland Indians of 1948."