VIERA, Fla. - No, it didn't come against anything that remotely resembled the Yankees' regular lineup, but all Stephen Strasburg can do is pitch against the lineup that goes up there to face him.
And he pitched awfully well this evening, no matter who those guys were wearing Yankees jerseys at the plate.
Strasburg struck out nine over five scoreless innings without issuing a walk. He did surrender six hits but came through with some perfectly executed pitches when he needed them most to escape his only jam of the evening: a bases-loaded, no-out tightrope walk that required a strikeout of Aaron Hicks and a double-play grounder from Dustin Ackley to become reality.
"It was a good day," said manager Dusty Baker, whose team won a 13-0 rout. "I mean, he wasn't facing the normal Yankees. But, hey, it doesn't matter. You still have to throw the ball across the plate."
Which is precisely what Strasburg did. Even with the elevated strikeout count, he needed only 68 pitches (51 of them strikes) to complete his pre-planned five innings of work. That efficiency was made possible by command of all three of his pitches, most notably his curveball and changeup on this night.
"It's progress," he said. "My changeup was a lot better today. I feel like I was finishing the pitch better and not yanking it as many times. The curveball felt good. Fastball command ... yeah, always gonna work on that."
If Strasburg sounds less than 100 percent thrilled with his performance, Baker picked up a similar vibe. The new manager is starting to get more familiar with his enigmatic right-hander, and he wants him to not be quite so hard on himself.
"He threw the ball well, and he still came off the field shaking his head like he didn't throw the ball well," Baker said. "So I'm learning about Stras. Is he ever really happy? Well, we're trying to make him happier. Just appreciate when you have a good outing because there's plenty of bad ones coming. And who knows, this might be the year when he doesn't have any."
Five Nationals relievers picked up where Strasburg left off to complete the shutout. Jonathan Papelbon, Matt Belisle and Oliver Perez each tossed a full, scoreless inning, while Yusmeiro Petit and Sean Burnett combined to record three outs in the seventh without any New York runners crossing the plate.