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National media focus on Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, not Cubs

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Updated: May 7, 2012 8:21AM

For all the hype surrounding the start of a new Cubs regime, the national correspondents Thursday at Wrigley Field were focusing on Washington Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, the right-handed wonder of 2010 who missed most of 2011 after Tommy John surgery.

The top pick of the 2009 draft didn’t disappoint the curious or his teammates.

‘‘There’s no doubt he’s an ace,’’ shortstop Ian Desmond said of Strasburg, who was making his first Opening Day start and first appearance at Wrigley. ‘‘He pitched his heart out, and I don’t expect anything else from him.

‘‘It’s not easy to get a grip on balls [on a windy, dry day], but I’ll take the curveball he had today any day.’’

The curve wasn’t even the best pitch for Strasburg, 23, who worked a career-tying-best seven innings, giving up one run, five hits and one walk and striking out five.

‘‘You have to establish the fastball early,’’ Strasburg said even though the 100 mph pitches of his pre-surgery days are gone. ‘‘I just tried to throw strikes early [in counts]. That’s something I’ll try to do the rest of the season.’’

The Cubs’ only run off Strasburg came in the fourth with two outs when Marlon Byrd singled home Ian Stewart, who had reached on a fielder’s choice. Strasburg gave up one more single, to Jeff Baker leading off the seventh. But Baker was wiped out in a double play.

‘‘Stephen was great,’’ manager Davey Johnson said. ‘‘His curve wasn’t as good as in the past. Getting a grip on his breaking ball was hard [in the conditions]. He couldn’t get a good feel on the breaking ball, but I thought he located his fastball pretty good. He gave us a great game.

‘‘The wind was treacherous today.’’

‘‘The last time I pitched in cold like that, I was in college,’’ Strasburg said. ‘‘But [Ryan Dempster] had to deal with the same thing. You have to know the elements and your stamina.’’

Strasburg was one half of a pitchers’ duel, with Dempster the one who held a 1-0 lead through seven innings.

‘‘You have to tip your hat to Dempster,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘He was in command and had an outstanding performance. If you didn’t like that game, you don’t like baseball.’’

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