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Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg Is Back, Davey Johnson Says He Never Left.

Jun 2, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) throws in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
Jun 2, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) throws in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

"Today was impressive," Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson said when asked about 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg's outing on Saturday against Atlanta, "... because he had an outstanding changeup, and the curve ball, [he] was getting that over too, and he was spotting his fastball and adding and subtracting on it. It was real impressive." The '09 no.1 overall pick rebounded from three less-than spectacular starts, regained control of his fastball and dominated Braves' hitters for most of the time he was on the mound. "That's the Stras we've all grown to love," the Nats' manager told reporters after the game, "And he was just unbelievable today. Totally in command. I know he was still strong, he still had another inning or two in him, but after the three rough outings, I figured it was the perfect scenario, my bullpen was set up perfect with the job he did. He was just unbelievable. He's fun watching when he's like that."

41,042 fans watched the game in person on Saturday afternoon in the nation's capital...

Strasburg went 7.0 strong, retiring the first eight batters he faced, five of them via strikeout. Strasburg gave up back-to-back two-out hits in the third before stranding both runners and the only other hits he allowed this afternooon came on leadoff singles in the fifth and seventh. Both of those runners were erased on 6-4-3 DP's, and when Strasburg was replaced by Sean Burnett in the top of the eighth, the right-hander had completed seven scoreless with nine K's and eight ground ball outs from the 23 batters he faced. After throwing 81 pitches in 4.0 innings in his May 15th start against the Padres, and throwing 90 and 95 pitches in back-to-back 5.0 inning outings against the Orioles and Braves, Strasburg needed just 90 pitches to get through seven this afternoon.

In the last at bat of Strasburg's eleventh start of 2012, he blew Braves' first baseman Freddy Freeman away with a 98 mph 1-2 two-seamer in an at bat that started with an 81 mph curve for a called strike before three straight heaters at 98, 99 and 98 again on the pitch Freeman went for and missed. "He was using all his pitches," the Nats' 69-year-old manager said, "Had great command and when he finished off, he blew [Freeman] away, I said, 'Man, he's back.' I don't think he ever left, in his mind he left."

"That's him," Davey Johnson said when asked about the efficient outing by his no.1 starter, "I've seen it time and time again. Low pitch count, strikes out a bunch of people and pitches that kind of ballgame. And since he'd had those three rough outings in his mind, we can live with him now for four or five days."

Strasburg also got a measure of revenge on Braves' second baseman Dan Uggla, who entered today's game 6 for 8 with a double, two home runs, two walks, two K's and seven RBI's in 10 career plate appearances against the Nationals' starter. The second of Uggla's two home runs off Strasburg came last week in Atlanta, when the ATL infielder tied the game at 4-4 with a two-run HR off Strasburg in the fifth and final inning he'd pitch that night.

Strasburg dropped an 83 mph 2-2 curve in for a called strike three in Uggla's first AB in the second, then threw another curve for strike one before striking Uggla out with back-to-back changeups in a quick three-pitch at bat in the fourth. Uggla's final at bat of the night came in the seventh, when he hit a first-pitch fastball to short for one of the two double plays Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa would turn for their pitcher. Tyler Clippard got Uggla swinging for the final out of the ninth too, so the Atlanta infielder ended the game 0 for 4 with three K's.

Davey Johnson seemed amused and impressed by how his pitcher had reacted to a hitter who's had his number so far in their personal history. "I tell you," Johnson said, "The way he pitched [Uggla] today, it was obvious to me that he wasn't going to give him anything to hit from jump street. I was reading lips on Uggla, I don't want to tell you what I heard him say, but [Strasburg] used his changeup in fastball counts, and his curve ball... it wasn't pretty the way he finished Uggla."

The win was Washington's fourth straight over Atlanta to start the year after the Nationals swept the Braves in their first series of the season last week in Turner Field and it was the sixth straight overall win over the Nats' NL East rivals. "They've got a great ballclub," the Nats' manager said, "But so do we." It was Strasburg's third-straight win, and his sixth overall in 11 starts this season. The (6-1) right-hander lowered his ERA from 2.64 to 2.35, lowered his FIP from 2.55 to 2.32, lowered his BB/9 from 2.64 to 2.35 and raised his K/9 from 10.86 to 10.94 K/9 in 11 starts and 65.0 IP. The added bonus, as Davey Johnson joked, was that he even got to save an inning for a pitcher who is on an as yet undefined limit in his first full-year back from Tommy John surgery. "With the situation this year on innings," the manager explained, "I've been taking innings away from him. Don't tell him I said that."