July 15, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) throws during the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Nationals won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
It's hard to imagine Stephen Strasburg, who leads the league with 11.69 K/9 after 18 starts, fully embracing pitching coach Steve McCatty's opinion that, "strikeouts are bull-[expletive deleted]," but when the 23-year-old right-hander spoke to MASN's Kristina Akra after Sunday afternoon's win, he told the reporter he had taken advantage of Marlins Park's spacious outfield to pitch to contact as much as possible. "In this big ballpark," Strasburg explained, "I really just wanted to go out there and pitch to contact and use our good defense." Of the 26 batters he faced, the Nats' right-hander walked one, struck out seven and got six ground balls and 12 fly balls. The Marlins collected six hits off Strasburg, but failed to push a run across as the '09 no.1 overall pick completed six scoreless and continued a stretch of twenty-one-straight innings against the Nationals' NL East rivals in which they have failed to score a run.
"They kept on getting hits out there," Strasburg told MASN's Ms. Akra, "So that's something that I can't control, just got to keep trying to pound the zone, and we played some great defense today and really got me off the hook."
"I have to say," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "That was one of the more impressive games that [Strasburg's] pitched. I thought he used his fastball better. I thought his location was a little better. He spiked a few changeups and he got in three jams he had to work out of, but that's the kind of Strasburg that I've grown to love. When he does that, it's just going to be... his pitch count will be down more. Even though he had, like I said, those two or three rough jams, he pitched out of them by making pitches, basically with his fastball."
"He used his fastball more than [he] relied on offspeed stuff and tricking hitters," Johnson explained, "And he went right after them with his fastball and he made better pitches when he got in a jam. Made great pitches and location, but everything was off the fastball."
Johnson said he congratulated Strasburg on what he said was an "outstanding" start, and noted that, "... at the end," of his outing, Strasburg, "... was actually even throwing better. He was locating better, everything was just much easier at the end. So it was very impressive for me." Strasburg threw 60 pitches in his first three innings of work, then threw an 11-pitch fourth, a 23-pitch fifth and ended his outing with an 11-pitch sixth for 105 pitches total in his 18th start of the season. He also drove in a run when the Marlins foolishly walked catcher Jhonatan Solano to get to the Nats' hard-hitting pitcher in the fifth inning of what was then a scoreless game.
Strasburg singled to right to give Washington a 1-0 lead in a game in which Miami right-hander Ricky Nolasco had held the Nats hitless through four innings. Asked if he was surprised to see the Marlins intentionally walk Solano to get to Strasburg, who entered the game with a .360/.407/.640 line, four doubles and a home run in 15 games and 32 plate appearances, Davey Johnson laughed and said, "I couldn't do it. I know him. I know what kind of hitter he is and how much pride he takes in his hitting."
Strasburg, asked a similar question by MASN's Ms. Akra, smiled and said, "I've kind of gotten used to that opportunity, so it hasn't been a good decision for [the opposition] so far. [Nolasco] threw me a couple breaking balls I wasn't seeing so well at all and I just got a fastball and put a good swing on it." After Sunday's game, Strasburg had a .385/.448/.654 line on the year.
The right-hander was also the NL (and league-wide) leader in strikeouts with 135 in 105.0 IP. Strasburg's 2.66 ERA is the NL's seventh-lowest, he has the second lowest FIP (2.42 to Gio Gonzalez's 2.38), and the lowest xFIP (2.60 ahead of Milwaukee's Zack Greinke's 2.80). None of this, however, has changed Nats' GM Mike Rizzo's plans for what lies ahead in the next two months of the season.
As the general manager explained on MASN in yet another interview which touched on the limits on Strasburg in his first full-year back from Tommy John surgery, "We're all on the same page with Strasburg's situation. We've discussed it ad nauseam and we've been committed to it since Spring Training. I'm a stubborn guy, we're not going to change direction now. We think it's best for the player and best for the franchise. So we're going to do what's best for the player."