A 31-pitch third inning in last night's 11-1 win over the San Diego Padres may have cost Washington Nationals' starter Stephen Strasburg a complete game against his hometown team.
The San Diego, California-born, San Diego State University-educated, 25-year-old right-hander completed seven scoreless against the Padres last night, but by that point he was up to 109 pitches, so Nats' skipper Matt Williams turned to his pen, ending Strasburg's sixth outing of the season after 7.0 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 Ks, five groundouts and two fly ball outs.
It was the second strong outing in a row for the '09 no.1 overall pick coming off a rough four inning start against the Miami Marlins in which he gave up eight hits and six runs.
Though he was up to 101 pitches after six, Williams made the decision to send his starter out for the seventh inning, which Strasburg wrapped up quickly in spite of the fact that he gave up a two-out single. Strasburg needed just eight pitches to retire the side. His manager was impressed with the Nats' no.1 starter's work throughout the game, but really liked what he saw in his final innings of work.
"That's the learning curve, I think," Williams told reporters after Strasburg earned the win, improving to (W, 2-2) on the year. "He knows where he's at pitch count-wise, and he knows that his pitches are probably limited in that inning anyway, so he went right after them. Threw even more fastballs in the last inning than he had in any inning previous. So, that's just him understanding where he's at in the game and he has to pound the strike zone and go after them and he did."
Williams also explained that he sent Strasburg back out, in part, to prepare him for future starts when he might need to go a little deeper than he had in his first five outings of the 2014 campaign.
"He hasn't been much over 100," Williams said, "so we get into a situation during the course of this year where he's got a one-run lead going into the seventh and he's at 100, we want him to be used to it and be able to get to the eighth if we want him to go that far, but get him up over 100 and up over 110, it's important for him, because if he gets into those situations, he's used to it and he's done it."
In what was arguably his strongest start of the season, Williams said the key for Strasburg was once again establishing his fastball. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 28 batters, struck out 11 and outside of the third when the Padres loaded the bases but came up empty, didn't allow a runner past second base.
"First-pitch strikes are key for him, of course," Williams explained. "He had good command of his fastball down and away to the righties. And at 95 mph it's tough for anybody to hit. Then he mixed in his offspeed pitches, but the key for him tonight was fastball, spotting it down and way to righties."
As Williams and Strasburg have said previously, once he establishes his fastball he can work his change and curve off of that and put hitters away.
"Having his fastball is key for him," Williams reiterated. "If he has that and he's able to put it where he wants to then everything else works really good and tonight was an example."
• We talked about Strasburg's outing, the Nats' big win and more on the latest edition of Nats Nightly: