Strasburg allowed a hit to Juan Pierre to lead off the game and then recorded 19 consecutive outs.
He walked none.
But probably his most impressive feat to begin a long season? He struck out just three batters.
That’s right, just three. He got comebackers and weak grounders. He relied on stellar defense by Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and others.
Even manager Davey Johnson thought Strasburg must have struck out five or six hitters.
Nope, it just seemed that way.
But the key was he didn’t have to strike out the side to get through the game. Strasburg knew from watching and pitching against the Marlins in spring training that they would try to attack early in the count.
“It is really kind of getting a feel for the game and what their approach is going to be,” Strasburg said. “I knew from spring training early on they don’t like to get to two strikes. I will take the quick outs any day of the week.”
And that could be the biggest news going forward in what he hopes will be 30-plus starts for the first time in his career: Strasburg working to get quick outs instead of laboring to make the batters swing and miss late in counts.
It was a career low in strikeouts for Strasburg in a winning decision. The previous low was five strikeouts in a 6-3 win over the Astros on April 16, 2012.
“I felt good,” Strasburg said. “I was just trying to execute the game plan. I knew they were going to be up there hacking. I was fortunate to make good, quality pitches and get some quick outs.”
This week, Strasburg had said he wanted to go longer than six innings in a start. Monday marked the ninth time in his young career he had ventured into the seventh frame. Afterward, he felt he would have been able to keep going if it wasn’t under the special circumstances of opening day.
“I felt great,” Strasburg said. “If it wasn’t opening day and the first start of the year, it would have been a different story.”
Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche noticed how Strasburg did not try to strike out the side the entire day. His first strikeouts came to the eighth and ninth place hitters to begin the third inning.
“That is what you are going to see the more he pitches,” LaRoche said. “You are going to see the guy that learns how to take himself deeper into ball games and learn there are times to go for the strikeout and times to go for the ground ball. And go for contact. He is learning that more and more.”