NEW YORK - There was the no-hit streak, which extended a full 10 2/3 innings between two starts before Asdrubal Cabrera homered in the bottom of the fifth. And there is the record, now 12-0 heading into the All-Star break.
For Dusty Baker, though, the most impressive thing Stephen Strasburg did tonight during the Nationals’ 3-1 win over the Mets came in the bottom of the seventh, his final inning of the game. Facing potential disaster after walking Brandon Nimmo with two outs on a questionable ball four call, Strasburg was now engaged in a full-on battle with Rene Rivera, his pitch count surpassing 100, his gray jersey soaked through with sweat, his entire start now coming down to this final batter.
Strasburg won that battle, getting Rivera to ground out to short on the eighth pitch he saw, the 108th pitch of the right-hander’s night. He offered a little fist pump before walking back to the dugout, as much display of emotion as you’re likely to see from him on the mound.
That was the moment that stood out to Baker, the one that told him more about his 27-year-old hurler than any other.
“That’s what aces do,” Baker said. “He’s matured, big-time. Aces don’t depend on the bullpen or somebody else to do their job. And he got his 12th win because of it. ... He wanted it.”
Strasburg is doing just about everything the Nationals need from him these days. Bouncing back impressively from a brief stint on the disabled list with an upper back strain, he has won each of his last two starts, no-hitting the Reds for 6 2/3 innings and tonight tossing seven innings of two-hit ball against the Mets in a big game with pennant race implications.
This, of course, is just a continuation of Strasburg’s entire season, which is now being discussed in historic terms. He is the first National League pitcher to open a campaign at least 12-0 since Rube Marquard was 18-0 for the New York Giants in 1912, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s also the first pitcher in either league to go into the All-Star break with a record this good since the Orioles’ Dave McNally was 13-0 heading into the 1969 Midsummer Classic at RFK Stadium.
Keep going back to last summer, and Strasburg is 20-2 over his last 29 starts with a 2.24 ERA.
“It just shows how good they swing on days I pitch, I guess,” he said, deflecting praise to his teammates. “I’m just trying to do my part, keep it close and give the guys an opportunity to win it.”
The Nationals are winning just about every time Strasburg takes the mound, leaving themselves a supremely confident bunch on the nights he pitches, even when it comes against an imposing opposing hurler like Noah Syndergaard, as was the case tonight.
“He’s that guy,” said first baseman Clint Robinson, whose two-run homer off Syndergaard gave the Nats an early lead. “We have a chance to win every time he takes the ball, and we know that. That’s why the Nationals gave him a big contract extension, because you need a guy like that in your rotation. And he’s living up to it right now.”
Strasburg hasn’t missed a beat since his little injury hiccup. He credits his ability to continue throwing while letting the upper back strain heal for the lack of disruption in his performance.
“I think the DL stint, the good thing is it wasn’t something that was impacting my throwing arm, so it wasn’t like a big process to try to get back into things,” he said. “My arm felt good when my trap and back subsided a little bit. So I was able to throw in between and maintain what I’ve been working on.”
The injury may be behind him, but Strasburg and the Nationals still chose to take a cautious approach when it comes to next week’s All-Star Game. Though he was selected to represent the club in his hometown of San Diego, and would have been under consideration to start for the NL, Strasburg agreed with the Nats’ suggestion he not pitch in the game, for fear risking any ailment cropping up again.
“They came to me and they said that was what they were thinking,” Strasburg said. “And in my head, I want to make up for the two starts I missed (while on the DL). So hopefully I’ll start the first game back and get the second half going right.”