Konerko calls Strasburg 'pretty special'
White Sox come away impressed with Nationals rookie
WASHINGTON -- The names of Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez all were brought up by Paul Konerko in comparison to Washington's Steven Strasburg following the White Sox 2-1 victory in 11 innings on Friday night.
And remember, the White Sox captain has developed a keen understanding of how Major League Baseball works during his 14 years in the game. Sort of the pragmatic logic of a manager or a general manager mixed with the talent of an American League All-Star.
For Konerko, who easily can separate reality from myth, to compare the Nationals right-hander to a Cy Young Award winner and two Cy Young contenders, well, Strasburg must have been pretty darn impressive over his seven innings at Nationals Park.
"Honestly, his stuff reminds me a lot of [Mark] Prior when he first came up, but he throws a tick or two harder, and the changeup is what puts him over the top," said Konerko, whose seventh-inning single was the last of four hits recorded against Strasburg.
"I don't know what he calls it, but it's like a split or changeup, and that's a whole different ball of wax when he can do that, when you're throwing that to righties and lefties," Konerko said. "Command is great, stuff is great. He's the whole package. There's nothing he doesn't have."
Actually, Strasburg was missing something against the White Sox found during his two previous starts against the Pirates and the Indians -- a victory. White Sox starter Gavin Floyd matched Strasburg pretty much pitch for pitch, allowing a minimal amount of offense turned in by the South Siders to give Strasburg a no-decision when he departed after 85 pitches.
Juan Pierre opened the game with an infield single, on a play where the boy wonder appeared a tick slow getting off the mound to cover first base. Omar Vizquel followed with a softly-hit double to right, putting runners on second and third with nobody out.
Two batters, two hits. Nothing to this Strasburg guy, right? The next 15 hitters would indicate otherwise.
Alex Rios drove in the White Sox lone run off Strasburg with a grounder to first, starting a string of 15 straight set down by the rookie. Nine of his 10 strikeouts came during this run, which ended, strangely enough, with Floyd's single to right to open the sixth.
That's right, the same Floyd with a 3-for-50 career mark and 28 strikeouts at the plate hit the unhittable.
"As a pitcher, you don't really think out there," said Floyd with a smile of his hard-hit single just inside the first-base line. "You just want to get a hit.
"There are no expectations. So, you just go out there and you just want to make contact. It's fun. You don't get a chance, especially in the American League, to actually hit, so you want to take advantage of it."
Strasburg pitched around Floyd's surprise single, allowing Adam Dunn's two-out double to bring home Ryan Zimmerman and tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. The phenom wanted to return for the eighth but seemed more disappointed at the final outcome than coming up short in a push for a 3-0 start.
"We just didn't get the job done today," Strasburg said. "I went out there to pound the strike zone with all my pitches over the plate. Pudge [Rodriguez] called a great game, but that is to be expected."
"Having Pudge behind the plate, that's a big help," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of his good friend lending wisdom to Strasburg's cause. "He threw changeups to strikeout guys. Pretty impressive. You don't see kids, no matter how good of stuff you have, to have that confidence on the mound. You don't find that everywhere. This is a pretty good one, but I think mine was better than him."
On this particular balmy night, with the First Fan, President Barack Obama, sporting a White Sox hat and watching the action, Floyd was every bit as good as Strasburg. Of course, Floyd has found a little more time to sharpen his skills.
While the White Sox weren't exactly falling over themselves to praise Strasburg, it was evident from their words how impressed they were with his work.
"There's nothing he doesn't have," Konerko said. "It's a matter of hopefully when you get him, he has an off-night. But stuff-wise, command-wise, poise-wise, you name it -- you can go down the list of what you want in a starting pitcher -- he's got it all. I wish him well and we don't have to face him anymore."
"He's real good," Pierre said. "He's the kind of guy when you face, you have to straight-up battle, throw all kinds of techniques out the window, pitches to look for, none of that. Get something decent and try to put a good swing on it."
Pierre marveled at the fact Strasburg spent any time in the Minors, adding how he could pitch any time for his team if he had one. Guillen compared Strasburg to the National League's best in Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, who Guillen predicted would win 25 games when he moved from the AL to the NL.
This list of superlatives goes on and on for a hurler with just 19 1/3 innings to his career credit.
"You know going into it what you're up against, but that doesn't mean they can't be beat," said Konerko of facing an ace such as Strasburg. "But you kind of throw everything out the window and compete and that's why those guys are so good, because everyone gets up for them and they still do good.
"That's why he's already there. He has played less than a year of pro baseball and he's as dominant, as good as anyone out there. That's what's impressive. The other guys spent time in the Minors and this guy is pretty special."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.