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Stephen Strasburg gave up three first-inning runs yesterday.
Strasburg was roughed up by the Cardinals in the top of the first inning, allowing three runs on three hits and a walk, and looking very much like he'd be in for a long afternoon on the mound. But the right-hander immediately righted his ship and wound up recording a quality start, not surrendering another run before he departed after seven strong innings.
The difference in Strasburg's results from the first inning vs. the rest of his start could be boiled down to one key stat: first-pitch strikes. He got ahead 0-1 to only three of the seven batters he faced in the top of the first; after that, he got ahead to 13 of the remaining 19 batters he faced.
Why the drastic disparity?
"I think maybe he's trying to do too much," manager Davey Johnson said. "But when he just pitches like he did after the first inning, he got the ball down and everything's more effective. And he attacked the strike zone. Like the last time out, he was trying to make the perfect pitch and missing away. It's a lot easier to pitch ahead."
It's a whole lot easier to pitch ahead, as Strasburg has learned over his career. But he had admittedly struggled to practice what he preaches early in his starts.
This wasn't the first time Strasburg labored through the first inning this season. Check out this comparison of his numbers from the first frame against every other inning he's pitched in 2013...
AB H BAA ERA
1st inn. 25 9 .360 10.80
2nd-7th inn. 97 18 .186 1.85
That's quite a striking difference, and Strasburg recognizes what he's doing to create the issue.
"I was trying to throw the perfect pitch," he said of the first inning yesterday. "I tell myself going into the game, 'Don't do that.' And I go out there and I do it."
Clearly, Strasburg has been able to make an adjustment from the second inning on. The challenge he now faces is figuring out how to make that adjustment before he ever takes the mound in the first place.