What first inning issues? Last time out in San Francisco's AT&T Park, where Stephen Strasburg went head to head with Matt Cain, allowing just five hits and one earned run in seven innings of work, he still threw 31 pitches in the first inning before settling in and putting together a dominant start. "He was spraying his fastball a little bit," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier after the outing, "and [he] had to battle through some long, leverage pitch type of innings and got through it and really pitched extremely well for us."
"As the game went on I was able to get command of all my pitches," the Nats' 24-year-old right-hander told reporters afterwards, "so it was a little tough earlier, but I had to go out there and keep battling."
"If he hadn't struggled the first couple of innings," Davey Johnson said after what ended up a 4-2 loss to the Giants, "I think he had over 40 pitches or something after two. I probably would have even gone further with him, but he pitched a great game, set up for our pen and our pen just didn't hold it." Johnson was right on the nose with the pitch count. Strasburg had 40 pitches after two, 108 after seven, and the 2-1 lead he handed to the bullpen was blown in the ninth and the game lost in the 10th.
Sunday afternoon in Nationals Park, there were no early inning issues. The Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick was dominant. Strasburg's 11th start of 2013 began with a nine-pitch, seven-strike first against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander didn't hit 40 pitches until he had two outs in his third scoreless frame and he didn't allow a run to score until he was charged with a balk with a runner on third and two out in the eighth. The Nationals won 6-1. Strasburg threw 112 pitches total against the Nats' divisional rivals, struck out nine and induced 11 ground ball outs from the 28 batters he faced.
The Nationals' starter was calm throughout the game, in complete control on the mound and confident when he spoke about the outing afterwards. "I know as long as I keep it close," Strasburg told reporters, "just kind of scatter runs, you know if a guy leads off with a double, just try not to walk the next guy and compound it, so, I always look to go out there and just try to minimize the damage and get our guys back up to the plate."
"Strasburg pitched a great ballgame," Davey Johnson said after the Nats' 6-1 series-clinching win. The balk call by home plate umpire Mike Winters in the eighth inning of a dominant outing was "nitpicking" according to the Nationals' manager.
"When the ball is in your glove hand," Johnson said, mimicking Strasburg's motions on the mound, "when you come up with the other hand asking, 'What's going on?' it's not like he's reaching for the glove, so it kind of can be interpreted both ways, that he's coming up to go in the glove... or he's coming up to... because [Jimmy] Rollins kind of was stepping out, and so... when you start moving the right hand they think you're going to the glove and if you stop, that is a balk, so it was a fine line in there."
"I was more worried about him the way he started the [eighth] inning," Johnson continued, "after he finished the seventh but we hit for about thirty minutes. But he pitched a great ballgame other than the balk and... good game."
"I was paying a whole lot attention," Johnson said, "I mean, he was going right after them and I don't think he had a strikeout the first couple of innings and it was great, he had like about 25 pitches. I said, 'This is great.' And thought I could for sure get seven, probably get eight, maybe nine and I think he still could have probably -- if there hadn't been a long delay, the way he was throwing after the seventh, I mean, everything was working unbelievably good."
Strasburg put the first runner of the game for Philadelphia on when he hit Kevin Frandsen as the Phillies' infielder tried to bunt in the second, and the Nats' starter gave up a single in the next at bat before retiring the side. After Philly starter Cole Hamels singled to start the third, Strasburg set 10 straight Phillies down before Freddy Galvis singled with one out in the sixth and was promptly taken off the basepaths on a 4-6-3 inning-ending DP.
Strasburg set the next three batters down in order as he struck out the side in the seventh. Ben Revere and Humberto Quintero singled to start the eighth after the Nationals had broken a scoreless game open with the long, five-run bottom of the seventh Davey Johnson referred to, but Strasburg got another DP grounder out of pinch hitter Ryan Howard then retired Jimmy Rollins to end his start after balking in the only run he allowed.
After his 11th start of the season, Strasburg's now (3-5) with a 2.49 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 21 walks (2.61 BB/9) and 71 Ks (8.83 K/9) in 72.1 IP. Sunday afternoon in the nation's capital, he seemed to find another level, as teammate Ian Desmond told reporters after the game: