VIERA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg watched two of his first 11 pitches sail out of the ballpark. He didn't flinch.
So much for the notion that the Washington Nationals' top pitching prospect can't handle a little adversity.After allowing two solo shots in the first inning, Strasburg finished with eight strikeouts in four innings, and the Washington Nationals beat a St. Louis Cardinals split squad 13-5 on Friday night."You got to go back out there and not let it faze you," Strasburg said. "Just keep pitching and pitching your game and that's all I kept doing. I was able to get some outs."Leadoff hitter Tyler Greene slammed Strasburg's first-pitch fastball over the fence in left-center. Two batters later, Allen Craig curled a high drive just inside the right-field foul pole, an opposite-field shot.All Strasburg did after that was buckle down and stifle a Cardinals lineup made up of players who will start the season in Double-A and Triple-A. He got Tyler Henley to miss three pitches, the last of which was a 97 mph rising fastball, to end the first and fanned three straight in the second.Strasburg pounded the strike zone, getting groundouts. He has yet to record a flyball out in three outings this spring."I think he realizes it's going to be less taxing on his arm to get some groundball outs instead of deep pitch counts and a higher number of strikeouts," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "I'm sure he's satisfied either way, but if you took the preference, I think he'd take the groundballs and he certainly gets a lot of groundballs."Strasburg didn't sound enamored of the strikeouts."My ball's moving enough to force weak contact. My pitch count was a little up. You're not going to have that many strikeouts every time out," he said.Strasburg, the top pick in June's draft who signed a record $15.1 million contract, gave up four hits in his longest spring outing. The right-hander threw 73 pitches, 53 strikes, and was constantly challenged by veteran Ivan Rodriguez, who caught him in a game for the first time."He wanted me throwing curveballs to both sides of the plate, he wanted me throwing changeups to the righties, fastballs in, fastballs away, fastballs up, sinkers, changeups, curveballs, everything. ... (Rodriguez) went out there with the confidence in me and with all my pitches," Strasburg said.Rodriguez barely needed to offer any encouragement to his 21-year-old battery mate."You have to go with your best pitch and sometimes that happens with power pitchers," Rodriguez said. "Power pitchers are going to get hit sometime. After that he settled down and did a tremendous job."In his three outings, Strasburg has yielded two runs and eight hits, walked one and struck out 12 in nine innings.Those are impressive numbers that may or may not play into the impending decision on whether Strasburg will get another exhibition start or whether the Nationals need those innings for other pitchers they feel are more ready to contribute to the rotation.Riggleman said Washington's front office, coaching and player development staffs would meet Saturday to discuss another round of cuts and acknowledged that Strasburg would be discussed."We'll continue to talk about when his next start will be ... and we'll schedule from there," Riggleman said.
Cardinals RHP Kyle McClellan went four innings, allowing three runs -- two earned -- on five hits. He walked four and struck out two. ... Washington OF Nyjer Morgan, who hasn't played since Sunday, remained sidelined with a tight right hamstring. Riggleman said Morgan wouldn't return before next week, but Morgan was itching to play. "In my eyes, I wish I was out there right now," Morgan said. ... OF Josh Willingham was scratched from the Nationals lineup with a stiff neck. ... Hall of Fame college basketball coach Bobby Knight skipped the second evening of NCAA men's basketball tournament play, donned a Cardinals jacket and cap, and sat on a stool next to manager Tony LaRussa beside the St. Louis dugout.