Stephen Strasburg threw 101 pitches in six innings on the mound in his April 25th start against the San Diego Padres in the nation's capital.
Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams sent the 25-year-old right-hander back out for the seventh that day. Strasburg gave up a single, but quickly completed an eight-pitch inning that left him at a season-high 109 pitches overall.
After that game, Williams explained that the decision to send the '09 no.1 overall pick back out for another inning was done, at least in part, with an eye on the future.
"That's the learning curve, I think," Williams said. "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."
"He hasn't been much over 100," Williams continued, "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."
This afternoon in the nation's capital, Strasburg was up to 106 pitches after seven innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The righty was on a roll too, having recovered from a long first in which he gave up four straight one-out singles and two runs to retire 13 of the next 14 batters he faced through five innings.
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Carl Crawford singled to start the sixth and Strasburg gave up the one of the two walks he allowed today with two down before a groundout to second from Andre Ethier ended the frame.
A 15-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh pushed Strasburg up to 106 pitches overall in what was then a one-run game in the Nationals' favor, so Williams sent him back out for the eighth.
The Nats' starter didn't make it through the inning. Dee Gordon bunted his way on and Hanley Ramirez took the second walk Strasburg issued today one out later, but both runners were stranded and the Nationals' still led 3-2 after Jerry Blevins and Tyler Clippard came on to get the last two outs.
"He's our horse," the Nats' skipper told reporters who asked about the decision to send Strasburg out for the eighth. "So, Dee [Gordon] laid down a perfect bunt and the subsequent batters forced us to go to the bullpen with Adrian [Gonzalez] coming up there, but yeah, of course, he's a guy that can go 120 [pitches]. We don't want to do that every time, but in a game like today, he's got the lead and we want to show confidence in him that we're willing to send him back out there and protect that lead."
Blevins retired Gonzalez and Clippard needed just one pitch to get a line drive out to center from Yasiel Puig that Denard Span caught. Rafael Soriano came on for the ninth, set the Dodgers he faced down in order, earned his seventh save in seven 2014 opportunities and completed his 25th straight scoreless inning on the mound.
Strasburg gave up seven hits total, four of them in the first and after eight pitches in the eighth was up to a new season high of 114 pitches overall.
Though he gave up the only two runs he allowed in the first, Williams said there wasn't any big adjustment needed after the inning in which four ground balls made their way through the infield.
"He got what he wanted in the first inning," Williams said. "A couple grounders got through but they just found holes. I don't think there was any major adjustment after inning number one. He had good location the rest of the game. Good breaking balls, but I don't think it was any different than inning number one."
After a four inning outing on the road in Miami last month which saw him allow three walks, eight hits and six runs before he was lifted, Strasburg has put together three strong starts, walking four (1.89 BB/9) and striking out 25 (11.84 K/9) in 19 IP, over which he put up a 0.95 ERA and a .254/.293/.338 line against.
"I think he's good," Williams said. "I think he's healthy. I think he feels good about where he's at right now. Last two times out have been good. Really good. There were some teams -- the Marlins game -- where they came out swinging early and he didn't locate, that's going to be the case with anybody I think. If you're not throwing it where you want to throw it. Regardless of how hard you throw it, it's got to be in a good location. So, I think his location has been a lot better and he feels good about it right now."
Asked if going eight innings and becoming that sort of workhorse starter he's talked about wanting to become is the next step for the starter, Williams said he's already as good as any pitcher out there.
"I think he's as good as anybody on any given day," the first-year skipper said.
"And we've also seen that anybody can get beat on any given day. So that's the nature of pitching. But I want to show confidence and we as an organization want to show confidence in him that if we get to that point, you've got a 3-2 lead and it's in the seventh inning, you've got 102 pitches, we're not afraid to throw you back out there and let you go. We also want to be mindful of that too, but I think it's just a confidence booster for him that he's able to go back out for it. He didn't go 1-2-3 in the eighth today, but then again, he didn't have to today. We want to give him the opportunity to do that though and get to that point where he can finish that eighth inning too."
Strasburg finally made it through the eighth inning in a major league game for the first time last May and also threw his first complete game last season. Is doing so on a regular basis the next step in his evolution... or is it figuring out how to avoid allowing runs in the first?