Strasburg invokes March memories ahead of World Series start

HOUSTON — There are three tiers of familiarity with the Houston Astros that Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg will aim to exploit when he takes the mound Wednesday in Game 2 of the World Series.

Justin Verlander will start Game 2 for the Houston Astros. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

In addition to his film study of the American League Championship Series that the Astros claimed in six games over the New York Yankees and the first-hand experience he gleaned watching the Nationals’ 5-4 victory in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, Strasburg tapped into the recesses of his memory while crafting a scouting report on Houston.

The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros share the same West Palm Beach, Fla., ballpark during spring training in the Grapefruit League.

“Yeah, I watched a little bit,” Strasburg said of his ALCS viewing habits. “But, again, it’s kind of beneficial that we share a spring training complex with them. You look at some things that they might be doing differently, but for the most part, hitters don’t really change too much over the years.

“They’ve got a little bit of everything, so I think it’s just knowing how you want to attack certain guys and not just fall into the pattern of just throwing the same pitch to start guys off or finish guys and really just take it one pitch at a time and focus in on that.”

Strasburg (3-0, 1.64 ERA in the 2019 postseason) has served as a co-ace alongside right-hander Max Scherzer, who earned the victory Tuesday despite laboring over five innings. Scherzer allowed two runs on five hits and three walks with seven strikeouts but needed 112 pitches to cap his outing. He retired the Astros in order once, doing so in his final inning.

Astros right-hander Justin Verlander (1-2, 3.70 ERA) has played a similar role in tandem with right-hander Gerrit Cole, who took his first loss in 26 starts on Tuesday. The Game 2 start will represent Verlander’s 30th career postseason appearance, and he is 14-9 with a 3.26 ERA in the playoffs.

Still, Verlander understands that nervous energy comes with the territory in October. At this stage, the 36-year-old veteran opts to harness it instead of fighting against the inevitable while preparing as usual.

“You know that the nerves are going to be higher,” Verlander said Tuesday. “Your body knows it’s not a regular start. Going to sleep tonight is not going to be the same as normal. But having done it before, I don’t know if it helps, it’s definitely not going to calm you down any more, but I know what to expect going into it.

“And having a routine does definitely help because it’s like from the minute I wake up I kind of start my routine, and I guess that kind of helps calm the nerves just a little bit.”

The Astros managed to overcome the Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees in the playoffs despite their struggles producing with runners in scoring position. Those woes proved to be their undoing in Game 1, with Houston finishing 3-for-12 in that situation, one of those hits being a two-out infield single from Carlos Correa that did not plate a run and merely loaded the bases in the seventh inning.

Rookie Yordan Alvarez, who was 2-for-2 with a walk to that point, followed with a three-pitch strikeout.

“Anytime you’re up against a really good starting pitcher, you want to take advantage of every single opportunity,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “You know it’s going to be a tall task.

“But I liked the at-bats. I even liked our at-bats with runners in scoring position. We had a little bit of bad luck. We did chase a little bit, as you’re going to. Keep preaching, ‘Give yourself as many opportunities as you can.’ The big hit eluded us a couple of times; a couple times it didn’t.”

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)