Notoriously hard on himself after a poor performance - or at least what he considers a poor performance - Stephen Strasburg has nothing to complain about today.
Strasburg went seven scoreless innings, marking the first time in his career that he has worked seven shutout frames, allowing just four hits, striking out nine and earning his sixth win in the Nationals’ 2-0 victory over the Braves.
This comes after three straight starts where Strasburg failed to work into the sixth inning and pitched to a 5.79 ERA.
“Since he had those three rough outings - in his mind - we can live with him now for four or five days,” manager Davey Johnson joked.
Catcher Jesus Flores said he saw a change in Strasburg today when he was warming up the Nats’ ace in the bullpen. “He looked real different,” Flores said. “Very confident.”
So what changed today from the last three times out?
“I think I just expected a little bit too much out of myself (recently) and I was kind of getting away from what I was trying to do and what I want to do out there,” Strasburg said. “So today was huge for me to be able to go out there and keep it simple.”
If this was simple, Strasburg should stick with simple.
The righty was on from the get-go, as he struck out Braves leadoff man Michael Bourn on three pitches to begin the game, then followed by setting down Martin Prado and Brian McCann on strikes to end the first inning.
Strasburg has put up high strikeout totals previously in his career, but it often forces him from the game early due to the number of pitches he’s forced to throw. Today, however, he blew away nine Braves hitters and still kept his pitch count manageable, allowing him to finish seven innings on just 90 pitches. He benefited from two double-play balls and didn’t walk a single hitter.
“That’s him,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen it time and time again. Low pitch count. Strikes out a bunch of people. He pitches that kind of ballgame.
“The job he did was just unbelievable.”
Because he was so pitch-efficient, Strasburg was in a position to keep working into the eighth inning. He said he felt stronger as the game went on and would’ve liked to stay in the game, but Johnson lifted his starter for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh with the Nats trying to tack on an insurance run.
Even if Strasburg wasn’t due up in that inning, Johnson said, he was yanking his starter after seven, and not allowing Strasburg to pitch into the eighth for the first time in his career.
“I know he has it in him,” Johnson said. “But with the situation this year on (trying to limit his) innings, I’ve been taking innings away from him. Don’t tell him I said that. But I’ve been going short with him.”
Sometimes, an extra day of rest can allow a pitcher to feel like he has a little more juice in his arm. Strasburg had that extra day thanks to yesterday’s rainout, and the juice was there, as he consistently was throwing in the high-90s and topped out at 99 mph on the stadium radar gun. But the 23-year-old said that today, he felt just like he would any day he took the hill.
The results just happened to be exceptional.
“I was pretty much ready to go yesterday,” Strasburg said. “I was about to walk out and the game was cancelled, so just had to try and regroup and get my mind right, and I was able to do that today.”