PHOENIX - In some ways, tonight's start exemplified Stephen Strasburg's season.
Strasburg had a couple of moments where he struggled to locate and had a shaky stretch in the third inning where he walked two batters and hit Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin with a 1-2 curveball. He had just four strikeouts in seven innings of work. But he finished the night going a solid seven innings, allowing just two runs in an 8-4 Nationals win.
It wasn't the smoothest of starts for Strasburg, but it wasn't a smooth season for the right-hander, either. He didn't overpower the Diamondbacks hitters, but he did enough, and he gave his team a chance to win.
Strasburg will finish the year with just eight wins, but he did post an ERA of 3.00 to go along with a 1.05 WHIP and 191 strikeouts in 183 innings. He struggled to overcome mental hurdles early in the season due to errors, close calls that didn't go his way or the weather on days that he started, but he says he improved when it came to dealing with some adverse situations.
"I'd say I learned a lot," Strasburg said of his season. "It's all about whether or not I can apply it. One thing, holding runners better. I didn't really care how the game went today, I just wanted to make sure they weren't getting free bases, and I was able to do that. I know that if I work on that, the little things, it's really going to save me a lot of runs. ...
"I think there's a lot of things I can improve on. But I think the one thing I did a good job improving on from the beginning of the season was that the things that happened that were unexpected, I tried not to let that affect me as much and carry over to the next pitch. Obviously there were a lot of crazy things that happened this year for me and for this team. I think that's one thing we learned as a group: It all doesn't matter. It's all about how you respond to it."
Back in spring, Strasburg said working deeper into games was going to be a priority for him this year. A season after being shut down in early September after reaching his team-imposed innings limit, Strasburg wanted to prove that he could work deeper into games and rack up innings now that he wasn't being limited in that area.
He did so this season, working seven innings or more in 16 of his 30 starts, and throwing 23 more innings than he did last year.
"There were obviously a few games in there, based on different circumstances, where I didn't have an opportunity to even try to go seven innings," Strasburg said. "So that was definitely a good accomplishment for me. But I definitely want to keep pushing forward."
Despite posting another strong season, Strasburg agrees with the suggestion that he hasn't reached his ceiling yet. He knows that he can keep improving, and says it's fair for people to expect the same.
"I mean, I put more pressure on myself than anybody," Strasburg said. "I think I have to step back a few times and not be so hard on myself. Because I honestly do expect to throw a no-hitter out there every time. It still hasn't happened, but I expect it to."
Has he gotten better at managing those expectations?
"Yeah, the biggest thing is trying to get back to the basics, what made me successful before I got drafted," Strasburg said. "I was just trying to keep the team in the ballgame, not waste too many pitches, not walk any guys. Just go out and complete and leave it all out there. That's all you can really do."