Strasburg looks ready for major league debut

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Stephen Strasburg ended his minor league audition with another strong performance in front of another near-capacity crowd.

Now it's time for the much-heralded Washington Nationals prospect — with the 100 mph fastball and $15.1 million contract — to prove himself in the major leagues.

In his last start before he's set to make his Nationals debut at home against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Strasburg showed he's got very little left to prove at the minor-league level. In only his 11th minor league start, Strasburg allowed no runs, three hits and one walk through five innings in the Triple A Syracuse Chiefs 7-1 against the Buffalo Bisons on Thursday.

"I feel like I've been ready," said Strasburg, who improved to 7-2 in the minors (4-1 with Syracuse, 3-1 with Double-A Harrisburg). "There's always going to be things to work on, there's always things to get better at. Whatever level I'm pitching at, I'm trying to get better."

Strasburg can't get much better in the minors, after last year's No. 1 draft pick showed the ability to work out of a couple of jams, and overcome a little bit of a control problem.

He had five strikeouts despite throwing a first pitch for a strike to just seven of the 19 batters he faced. And Strasburg finished with a flare, preserving a 3-0 lead by getting International League batting leader Jesus Feliciano to ground out to second with runners at second and third and two out in the fifth inning.

That was particularly satisfying to Strasburg who, because of a limit on his pitches, couldn't work out of a bases-loaded jam in a 3-2 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday.

"You always want to work out of jams because as a pitcher and a human being, it's not going to be smooth sailing every single time," he said.

Strasburg will join the Nationals with a 1.30 earned-run average in the minors, including a 1.08 ERA with Syracuse. And of his 11 starts, he's not allowed an earned run seven times.

Strasburg's performance was so dominant that it left Bisons manager and longtime former major leaguer Ken Oberkfell with only one question: "Why is he here?"

"He's major league. I was impressed from his first pitch," Oberkfell added. "I just wanted to see it in person. We've see all the hype on all his starts. I was impressed with the way he kept himself composed. We didn't really have a lot of chances."

Oberkfell wasn't the only one curious to see Strasburg in person, a pitcher who has generated national attention with every start. The buzz hit a new level on Thursday with the game broadcast nationally on Versus cable network. He drew three of the four largest crowds at Syracuse, and attracted an announced crowd of 14,744 in Buffalo. It was the second-largest crowd in Buffalo this season — and came on a weekday afternoon game.

Strasburg's arrival could certainly provide the Nationals a needed boost in several ways. They began the day sitting last in the National League East — 5½ games behind Atlanta — and have been ranked in the bottom third in major league attendance this season.

"Just another ballgame," Strasburg said, looking forward to Tuesday. "We've got great fans here in the minors. They probably sold out every game I've pitched. So I've been used to it."

On Thursday, Strasburg opened the game with pitches timed in the high 90s, including two at 99 mph. Just as impressive was the 97 mph curve ball he threw in striking out IL home-run leader Mike Hessman.

He retired the first eight batters he faced before walking opposing pitcher Dillon Gee. He then gave up a two-out single to Feliciano before ending the inning by getting Justin Turner to fly out to left.

The 21-year-old appeared to grow frustrated after walking Gee, which led to manager Trent Jewett to visit the mound.

"You don't want to walk a pitcher," Strasburg said, with a frown.

Strasburg settled in the fourth inning, before running into trouble in the fifth.

Mike Cervenak opened with a single to left. With one out, Ruben Tejada hit a high-hopper over first baseman Josh Whitesell. Strasburg then struck out Gee looking before getting Feliciano to ground out on a full count. The Chiefs scored twice in the sixth inning and added to more in the eighth inning to build a 7-0 lead.

Jewett was never worried.

"You expect him to do those things," Jewett said, referring to overcoming trouble. "There's no secret that he's good. There's no secret that he's confident. You expect him to get out of those jams."

Strasburg also showed a flare for hitting. He improved to 2-for-3 with Syracuse with a single to left, and eventually came around to score the Chiefs' third run.