Strasburg's changeup elevating his game to new heights

Although Stephen Strasburg allowed a home run to Brandon Moss on a changeup, it's becoming a pitch that is another way for the right-hander to get hitters out.

Strasburg arrived in the major leagues with a lethal fastball and it is still there. But it is his other pitches, like the curveball and now the changeup, that are becoming consistent out pitches that help elevate him to an elite category.

"I think my ability to command my other pitches has really opened it up a little bit more," Strasburg noted. "I think it's just trusting it. It's kind of been a pitch that's always been there, but it's just finding the right time to throw it, the right guys to throw it to and how to get to it."

Strasburg-Throws-Blue-Sidebar.jpgStrasburg pitched six innings and allowed only one run in earning his ninth win in as many decisions, a franchise record start to a season. His winning streak is now 12 games, which is a franchise record, dating to Sept. 15, 2015. Right-hander Livan Hernandez and right-hander Dennis Martinez each had 11-game winning streaks.

"You try not to focus too much on the previous start, whether it was good or bad," Strasburg said. "But it's all about just trying to move forward and trying to learn from each outing."

Nationals manager Dusty Baker has been impressed by this 9-0 start.

"He's certainly earning his money," Dusty Baker said. "This is big for him, for him and us. He's been trying to figure out probably for a couple years why he's not a big winner because he has the stuff to be a big winner. Success breeds confidence and I'm sure this guy is at an all-time high in confidence and concentration."

The 12 winning decisions in a row by Strasburg have also been noticed by his teammates. The streak has given veterans like Jayson Werth, who hit a dramatic pinch-hit grand slam to put the game away, confidence when they see him on the mound.

Werth was aware during in spring training in Viera, Fla., that Strasburg looked even more physically imposing than in previous seasons.

"He's been great," Werth said. "I really noticed a big change in Stephen in spring training. He came in and he just had a good feel to him. He looked a little bigger, like he was in real good shape. He was talking a lot, which is always a good sign from him. He doesn't always say too much.

"Early on in spring, it just kind of felt like he was going to have a big year. So far, so good. He's looked great. Obviously, I think the contract has helped. He's not going to have to go through a whole season of (worrying about contract status). Free agency can mess with some guys' heads sometimes.

"He's not going to have to deal with that. Obviously, anytime the organization that you come up with and are drafted by, if they end up snapping you off like that, it's gotta feel good. So he's got a lot going for him right now."

The changeup was the pitch that Moss hit out for a home run. But Strasburg said that's because Moss can hit and not because of his pitch selection. Heading into that at-bat, opponents were hitting only .060 (3-for-50) against Strasburg's changeup this season.

"It was just not well executed," Strasburg said. "He's a good mistake hitter, doesn't matter what pitch it is. If you leave it up out over the plate, he's going to do some damage on it."

Strasburg did have to battle. And his pitch count started to rise. Heading to the seventh inning, Strasburg had reached 104 pitches.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny elected to call on left-handed pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Baker answered by replacing Strasburg with left-hander Oliver Perez.

"I thought I was going to get (pinch-hitter Stephen) Piscotty, so I was ready to get him out," Strasburg said. "And then when they switched him, I started to think in my head how to get Wong out. And then Dusty came out and took me out, so I was kind of focusing on getting first guy out."

Looking back on the start, Strasburg was pretty happy with the results.

"I feel like I was maybe just missing on some fastballs," Strasburg said. "But it felt good coming out of my hand. You can't just overcompensate for it. Changeup was OK. Slider was kind of hit or miss, but my curveball was pretty good throwing it for a strike today."

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