His 3.00 ERA, his 1.00 WHIP and his 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio all suggest Stephen Strasburg has pitched quite well to begin his season.
The stat that the Nationals right-hander takes the most pride in after three starts? The 21 innings he has pitched.
“Going out there for the seventh inning, every time,” he said. “I think that’s something that I want to try, and as much as I can, is go deep into the ballgame and keep it close and give the guys a chance to win the game.”
Strasburg has done just that. His personal record may be 1-0, but the Nationals are 2-1 when he takes the mound, and the one loss came in a game that was tied 3-3 in the ninth.
He has given them a chance to win every time, and has done so by doing something that has at times been difficult during his career: consistently provide innings.
Strasburg’s career-best average innings per start was 6.32 in 2014. Compare that with co-ace Max Scherzer, who over the last four seasons has averaged 6.76 innings per start and in 2015 topped out at 6.93, and it’s clear what step Strasburg is trying to take to elevate himself to the next echelon of star pitchers.
The Nationals could have pulled Strasburg after six innings Friday. His pitch count stood at 98, and he was clearly frustrated by plate umpire Dan Bellino, who consistently wouldn’t call strikes on pitches that certainly appeared to be over the plate.
At one point, after a potential strike three on the corner was called a ball, Strasburg dropped to a knee and remained there for a second in disbelief. And when the sixth inning ended, he had a few words for Bellino as he walked back to the dugout, as did Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux.
“To be honest, it kind of got in my head a little bit,” Strasburg said. “But I just kept telling myself: All right, I’m going to make that pitch again. That’s all I can do. It’s hard to worry about whether he’s swinging the bat, whether he’s going to call it a ball or strike. I’m just trying to go out there and play my own game and hit my spots.”
Given all that, it would have been easy for Strasburg and the Nationals to call it a day after the sixth and let the bullpen take over. The right-hander, though, was adamant about returning to the mound for the seventh.
“We were discussing it, and Stras really wanted it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “And it wasn’t hot out. It was cool. It was the first time I’ve seen Stras hardly break a sweat. And he was sharp from the beginning - sharp with his breaking ball, sharp with his location on his fastball. He said he was fine. Stras has been honest with us the whole time.”
So Strasburg took the mound for the seventh. And proceeded to retire the side on 13 pitches, raising his total for the afternoon to 111.
It was the first time he topped 110 pitches since May 19, 2016. And it allowed him to maintain his impressive pace to begin this season: seven innings every time he starts. Only the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel has matched that feat in his first three starts of 2017.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Baker said. “But it was the right decision.”