Two years after taking Major League Baseball by storm during one of the most remarkable — albeit injury-shortened — rookie seasons in history, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is doing something even more impressive by continuing to exceed the expectations.
Strasburg’s six-start winning streak ended Monday, June 25, when he gave up three runs in six innings in the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies in Denver. But Strasburg still exhibited flashes of dominance in defeat as he allowed just six hits and one walk while striking out eight.
He leads the National League with 118 strikeouts in just 90 innings pitched and ranks among the league leaders in wins (nine), earned run average (2.60) and walks/hits allowed per inning pitched (1.04). He has also made 13 “quality starts” (pitching at least six innings and allowing no more than three earned runs) in 15 attempts.
While Strasburg’s starts are not greeted with the frenzy that accompanied his appearances in 2010 — when his starts for minor league affiliates at Double-A Harrisonburg and Triple-A Syracuse drew record crowds before he generated sellout or near-sellout crowds for his first five big league starts in June — he is still quite a gate attraction both at Nationals Park and on the road.
The Rockies drew 40,177 fans to Coors Field for Strasburg’s appearance Monday, which marked the fifth time in his last seven appearances that a ballpark hosting a Strasburg start welcomed a larger-than-average crowd. The Rockies, who average 33,392 fans per game, drew more than 40,000 Monday for just the fourth time since Opening Day.
The Nationals, who average 29,482 fans per game, drew more than 41,000 for Strasburg’s starts against the Baltimore Orioles (41,918) Sunday, May 20 and the Atlanta Braves (41,042) Saturday, June 2. Road starts at the Braves Saturday, May 26 and at the Toronto Blue Jays Wednesday, June 13, meanwhile, drew crowds of 42,698 and 41,677, respectively. Those figures are well above the Braves’ and Blue Jays’ averages of 31,170 and 27,161.
Of the two recent Strasburg starts to draw crowds below the host park’s average, one was at Boston’s Fenway Park, which has welcomed 752 straight sellout crowds. The Red Sox average 37,524 fans per game and drew 37,309 for Strasburg’s start Friday, June 8. Strasburg’s most recent home start, against the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday, June 20, generated a crowd of 27,485.
While Strasburg’s impressive performance on the mound is enough to lure fans to the park for his starts, so too is the likelihood that there aren’t many more chances to see him pitch this season.
Strasburg, whose rookie season was cut short after 12 starts (and a mind-boggling 92 strikeouts in 68 innings) by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and a year-long rehabilitation process, is on an innings count and will be shut down at some point between 160 and 180 innings. He is exactly halfway to 180 innings, but even if the Nationals let him go that far, he’ll still only make about 30 starts, which would mean he’ll miss the last few weeks of the season.