Williams, Strasburg on the Nationals’ 4-1 win

Prior to Thursday night’s game, Nationals manager Matt Williams was confident starter Stephen Strasburg was going to come out firing.

It seemed like a reasonable, even predictable comment for a manger to make of his own starting pitcher. Yet with a meager 1-8 road record this season coming into tonight, Strasburg’s success away from our nation’s capital had been anything but a realistic notion.

As it turns out, Strasburg backed his skipper in a big way and backed the Nationals in a 4-1 win over the Mets. Strasburg allowed one unearned run and picked up eight strikeouts in seven innings, using the entire strike zone to stifle New York’s offense and allow the Nationals to widen their lead in the National League East.

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“Good fastball command on both sides of the plate,” Williams said. “That’s where it starts for him. If he can do that well, it opens everything else for him. He pitched well.”

Williams was asked if there was anything in particular that prompted him to make his pregame proclamation, or whether it was merely the idea that despite a less than stellar win/loss record, Strasburg’s still a young guy at the top of a formidable rotation.

“(It’s) just the way he’s been working,” Williams said of Strasburg. “(He’s) asking questions, talking to his teammates and gaining knowledge and wanting to be really good. Tonight he was.”

Strasburg rarely put himself into any pressure situations, but found himself with two runners on in the Mets’ half of the sixth inning. After a leadoff double by Eric Young Jr., Strasburg walked Curtis Granderson, bringing the tying run to the plate.

It appeared as if the pitcher was going to let a brilliant start slip away, but Strasburg kept his composure and got Daniel Murphy to ground into a double play before striking out David Wright to end the inning and the threat to earn his ninth win of the season.

“This game is funny,” Strasburg said. “You can always learn something new. I wouldn’t say pitching on the road is a tough point. I’ve had bad games on the road and I think there’s things that I do that put me in a position where they can take a better swing at it, so I try to do as much as I can.”

His efforts, along with two home runs from the offense, put the Nationals six games ahead of Atlanta in the division. It’s a sizeable lead - the largest of any team among the National League division leaders - but means very little in mid-August.

“It’s not significant at all,” Strasburg said of the team’s cushion atop the NL East. “I think we’ve got a lot of baseball to play and we can just control what we can control. That’s showing up to play every day and giving it all we’ve got, so hopefully that puts us in a good position at the end of the year.”

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