Had last night's rain delay lasted about nine more minutes than it did, Washington Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg might not have returned to the mound. With two out in the third, the skies over Nationals Park (and apparently just over Nats Park) opened up to the point that the game was stopped for 51 minutes, after which Washington's 24-year-old right-hander returned and got back to the business of dominating the Atlanta Braves. "I didn't like the way he was throwing," Davey Johnson deadpanned after the game, "So I wanted to see him go back out."
"I was going to be kind of stretched in the pen with all of the guys that worked yesterday," Johnson told reporters after another late night of baseball in the nation's capital last night, "but the grounds crew did a great job, we got started a little quicker, so he had about 50 minutes delay. Anything over an hour is a drop-dead date for me, but I thought he handled it well." Strasburg threw 39 pitches in his first two scoreless frames, giving up a single in each inning, but holding the Braves off the scoreboard. When he returned to the mound after the delay, he dropped an otherwordly curve ball on Martin Prado, that completely fooled Atlanta's left fielder, who flinched and stepped back from a pitch that dropped in for a called strike three and Strasburg's 5th K in 3.0 IP.
"He was throwing the heck out of the ball," Davey Johnson said after Strasburg had completed six innings of work, striking out 10 in his 25th start of the 2012 campaign. After the win, the '09 no.1 overall pick is now (15-5), with a 2.85 ERA, a 2.62 FIP, 43 walks and 183 Ks in 145.1. Strasburg's manager couldn't say enough about how confident and poised Strasburg was against the Braves during last night's post game press conference. "He seemed to have a good idea of what he wanted to do and he was doing it."
"Each outing, each inning he's learning more about what he wants to do, he's controlling what he wants the catcher to do more. It's fun watching." Strasburg's catcher,Jesus Flores, agreed, telling reporters, "[Strasburg] was totally locked in tonight. He was hitting my spots, we were pitching a lot inside to those guys and then the breaking ball was so effective to them and they were pretty much swinging at everything."
"It was really fun to catch him tonight," the Nats' 27-year-old catcher said.
"When he throws that curveball like that," Davey Johnson continued, "I mean, that's a whole new dimension. And his changeup is really a strikeout pitch. That and the fastball. He knows more about where he wants to go with it. You don't see big league hitters very often pull back, and you saw that several times tonight, that's how electric his stuff was. But I think the whole stadium, if I'd have hooked him after five, after he'd punched out the side they'd have been... and you guys would have been wanting to string me up."
After striking the side on 13 pitches in the fifth, Strasburg was up to 81 pitches, but the Nats' skipper said before last night's game that he wasn't thinking about saving an inning or two here and there anymore with the season and Strasburg's innings limit winding down. "I won't be thinking about limiting him in his last few starts," Johnson explained, "and I'll go with what I think I can get out of him and that's it."
"I've done that here," the Nats' manager explained, referring to the times he's found a way to end a few starts early throughout the season to keep Strasburg around as long as possible this September. "I mean, I've done that all the way, with that thought in mind, but I wasn't going to do it in this game. Like I said the other day, I'm going to take him as far as I normally would. And I would have let him throw 125, 120 pitches. And I figured that I cut him short because of all that delay." Strasburg ended up throwing 94 pitches overall, allowing just four hits, a walk and a run in his final inning of work.
Particularly impressive last night was Strasburg's changeup, which ESPN's Stats and Info blog highlighted this morning in a post on the right-hander's 25th start."He threw only eight changeups against the Braves," the report on the start noted, "but recorded four strikeouts with the pitch."
"It's a dominant pitch," Davey Johnson told reporters, "All of them are dominant. He can pitch with one of them. He's learning how to really pitch with his fastball. He's been too fine with the fastball. He likes the catcher more on the corner, not off the corner. He knows what he wants to do, he's had enough experience up here against good-hitting ballclubs and he knows exactly the sequence he wants to go in and where he wants to go with it. He was throwing hard, but he was not over-throwing. When he stays down on the knees and moves it in and out with the curve ball and changeup, it's, I mean, the changeup is 10 x's tougher when he's getting his strikes on the knees."
As for Strasburg's curve last night, which had Martin Prado ducking for cover, the Nats' skipper said Strasburg really seemed to have great command of the pitch, even after he retook the mound following the delay. "His curve ball was a lot tighter and harder and it looked like he had really good feel for it. And a lot of them were just missing. They looked like strikes from where I was. I think if you ask anybody that goes up there and hits against him when he throws like that. It's not comfortable."
Prado did not look comfortable at all on the bender that ended the third:
Braves' third baseman Chipper Jones, who did not play in last night's game, was impressed with what he saw from Strasburg from the bench.
News bulletin..that Strasburg cat is pretty good! Need Med and the offense to step up tmrw to salvage the last one. Jhey is making me proud!— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) August 22, 2012
The crowd of 33,888 that turned out on a Tuesday night in Nats Park was equally impressed and vocal in their support of the Nats' starter, hanging on every pitch. As Strasburg said after the game, it reminded him of his first start in Nationals Park back in June of 2010. "Pitching in front of a sellout crowd like this," Strasburg told MASN's Kristina Akra, "The electricity was in the air. It kind of reminded me of my debut." Strasburg struck 14 batters out that night. Last night it was "only" ten: