Even at his very best, Stephen Strasburg rarely in his career has earned the designation of “workhorse.”
The typical Strasburg gem usually ends after seven innings, maybe eight, his pitch count well into triple digits, the Nationals choosing not to risk pushing their star right-hander too far.
There have been a couple of instances, though, when Strasburg gave his team no choice but to let him go for it. And perhaps never more so than this afternoon on South Capitol Street.
With maybe the best combination of dominance and efficiency he has ever displayed while wearing a curly W cap, Strasburg tossed a six-hit shutout on 110 pitches, leading the Nationals to a 4-0 victory over the Marlins not only with his arm but also his bat.
Strasburg, whose fifth-inning homer accounted for the game’s first run, barely broke a sweat on a 78 degree late afternoon at Nationals Park, scattering what little damage the Marlins did across his entire outing. He barely averaged 10 pitches per frame, issuing his lone walk by intentional means, striking out seven.
With the win, the Nats swept the three-game series from Miami, reducing their magic number to clinch their fourth division title in six years to 16.
This was only the second complete game of Strasburg’s career; he shut out the Phillies on 99 pitches on Aug. 11, 2013. He previously pitched into the ninth inning only one other time, going 8 2/3 innings at Wrigley Field on Aug. 22, 2013.
That Strasburg did this today in his third start since returning from an elbow injury only underscored his performance.
Though he had been sharp and effective in each of his two previous starts since returning from the disabled list, Strasburg hadn’t been efficient enough to reach the seventh inning before surpassing a pitch count of 90-91. The Nationals figured to ease the reins a bit this afternoon and push Strasburg to triple digits, but he was so efficient it almost didn’t even come into play.
Strasburg didn’t need to throw more than 13 pitches in any single inning, pounding the strike zone, inducing weak contact and pitching out of what few jams he faced.
The Marlins’ tough 2-3-4 triumvirate of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna was held in check all afternoon. (Stanton was held in check all week, going 1-for-10 with a 440-homer, a sac fly and one intentional walk in the series.)
The only Miami batter who managed any consistent success against Strasburg was J.T. Realmuto, who tripled, doubled and singled in his first three at-bats but never advanced once he reached base, including the top of the fifth when Strasburg stranded him at third with two strikeouts and a fly ball.
The Marlins kept making quick outs, so Strasburg kept returning to the dugout, with no reason for pitching coach Mike Maddux to make any calls down to the bullpen for reinforcements.
And then Strasburg gave himself a lead with one big swing on the first pitch of the bottom of the fifth. His opposite-field homer off lefty Adam Conley was the second of his season, the third of his career.
Moments later, Wilmer Difo made it 2-0 with a solo blast to left-center, his fifth of the season.
And when Trea Turner walked, stole second and scored on Anthony Rendon’s seventh-inning double, the Nationals had themselves a 3-0 lead, with a fresh and efficient starter on the mound who showed absolutely no sign of letting up.