Right-hander Stephen Strasburg makes his first start at home in the postseason for tonight’s Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
Strasburg’s last start was in the National League Division Series Game 5, in which he allowed three runs early but then settled in to post six innings in the 7-3, 10-inning win over the Dodgers.
“Yeah, he’s been awesome,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “The biggest thing for him is what we always talk about, is to control the controllables. Some things he can’t control. Just worry about getting outs and getting to the next pitch. The biggest thing with him this year is getting to the next pitch and focusing on just getting outs.”
Strasburg allowed two early homers in that game but did not get rattled. The Dodgers managed only one hit after the second inning against Strasburg. After a slow start, he was able to throw his curveball for strikes.
“For me, it’s trying to focus on what you can control, disregard what you cannot control,” Strasburg said. “And that really comes down to executing a game plan, taking it one pitch at a time, and just trying to make as many good pitches as possible and letting the chips fall as they may.”
Strasburg has pitched for the Nationals since 2010. He was not able to pitch in the 2012 postseason as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. But he did throw in the playoffs in 2014, 2017 and now 2019. This is the first postseason he has pitched for Martinez.
A lot has been made of the camaraderie of this team and how that has played a part in why the Nationals are jelling at the right time. Even Strasburg has appeared to come out of his shell a bit, as seen when he normally reticent right-hander did a home run dance after deep in Atlanta, or when he got a big bear hug from Gerardo Parra and Max Scherzer after a nice start late in the season.
Strasburg has noticed how close this team is.
“I think the biggest thing is that we have really, over the last couple years, tried to address is the culture in the clubhouse,” Strasburg said. “And Davey’s been great. He’s kind of let a lot of the guys that have been there a long time kind of take over the clubhouse. And the additions that we brought in this year has only made it so much better. We have a lot of fun playing together, we have a lot of fun winning together, and we just want to keep that going.”
When the club started 19-31 it would have been easy to point fingers at the bullpen or an offense that couldn’t get the big hit. But Strasburg said that, with Martinez’s guidance, the men in the clubhouse did not let the early rocky road fracture their fraternity.
“It’s human nature for, when things go wrong, to maybe not want to look in the mirror and constantly say we don’t really have that kind of feeling in the clubhouse. It’s more so like picking each other up and sticking together. We’re just a tight-knit group of guys, and we talk about family a lot.”
The players feed off each other’s success. The bullpen gets fired up when they see the starters go out and put up shutout innings.
“It kind of puts everybody at ease a little bit when you just see the way that they’re setting a tone by attacking the other team,” said reliever Sean Doolittle. “They’re working quick. They’re getting quick outs. They’re constantly ahead in counts. Those kinds of things are kind of things that, when you’re down there in the bullpen, you see that, and you feed off that energy. So, when your number gets called, you basically want to do the same thing. You want to pick up where they left off and get the ball to the next guy.”
Doolittle said it makes a world of difference to see Strasburg and the other starters get through six innings, or even seven innings. Then the bullpen realizes what is left for them to do, and it’s not four or five innings. It is instead six or nine outs.
“As far as them going deep into games, it makes our job so much easier because we start to think about it like a countdown of outs,” Doolittle said. “I think sometimes, you’re super worried about the situation in the game or some of the bigger-picture things, but if they’re going seven innings and then all we’ve got to do is figure out a way to get six outs.
“Piece that together, find a way to get six outs, or the other night, Game 1, it was four outs. Just figure out how to get it done. It makes our job so much easier and gives us a better chance coming into the game.”