Strasburg still feeling strong, Nats shooting for a sweep

After last night’s outing, Stephen Strasburg has now thrown 145 1/3 innings this season, nearly 22 more than he’s put up in either of his two prior professional seasons.

Is the hard-throwing right-hander starting to tire at all? If you watched him work last night, you can probably guess the answer.

“No, it’s a tribute to the program that I’ve been on,” Strasburg said. “It’s really helped me get stronger and I think I’ve been able to refine my mechanics as the season went on. I feel great. I feel like I’ve got a lot more in the tank.”

The numbers certainly back that statement up.

Over his last four outings, Strasburg has pitched to a 1.50 ERA, striking out 29 in 24 innings. Last night, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Strasburg had 10 swings-and-misses on fastballs, one shy of his season-high.

His fastball velocity averaged out at 96.2 mph, which is the highest it’s been in more than two months.

strasburg sunset throwing sidebar.jpgIf anyone questions whether the Nats are still going to shut him down, I might lose it.

Strasburg was asked if his outings down the stretch feel like the postseason for him, given, you know, that he won’t actually be pitching in the postseason. The 24-year-old shot back a quick answer.

“It’s the regular season,” he said. “I’m going to keep pitching, and I’m in it with these guys for the long run.”

This season, the run won’t be all that much longer. But Strasburg isn’t approaching these final few starts any differently than he has the others.

Strasburg’s outing last night has helped set the Nationals up to go for the sweep of the Braves, a feat which would leave them eight games up on Atlanta in the division.

I said going into this series that the only way the three-game set would leave much of a mark on the National League East race is if one team picked up a sweep.

The Braves could have cut the Nationals’ lead in the division to two if they’d rolled into Nationals Park and won three straight. Instead, the Nats now have a chance with a win today to increase their edge even further and leave the Braves eight back with a little more than five weeks remaining in the regular season and only three games remaining between these teams.

The Nats are rolling, having won 14 of their last 17 and holding a seven-game cushion. But they know their work in this series isn’t done yet.

“I take nothing for granted,” Davey Johnson said. “Eight (games up) would be better.”

They also know how big it would be to polish off this sweep.

“They can do the math and so that’s why this series, any time you go up against the club that’s fighting you for the division, it’s more weighted,” Johnson said last night. “There’s more concentration, there’s more energy level. There’s more on the table. Atlanta, after (Monday’s game) they were very dejected. After (yesterday’s game) they were very dejected, because they know. They’ve got a pretty good lead on the wild card but they don’t want the wild card. Believe it.

“Everybody was all excited about the new wild card being added. I wasn’t real keen on it. I knew right away that you could be the second club in your division and you’ve got a one-game playoff. It’s not a comfortable feeling for clubs fighting for the pennant.”

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