Stephen Strasburg was on a roll after retiring the San Francisco Giants in order in the sixth, striking out Gregor Blanco and Buster Posey that inning for his sixth and seventh Ks of the night.
Strasburg retired 10 straight after Posey's two-out single in the third and 13 of 14 overall after Giants' shortstop Brandon Crawford singled to drive in the only run the Washington Nationals' 25-year-old starter allowed while he was on the mound in AT&T Park.
When the Nationals rallied with a five-run top of the seventh, Nats' skipper Matt Williams hit for Strasburg, ending his outing after just 88 pitches.
As the first-year manager and former Giants' infielder explained after his first game on the bench back in the city he called home for ten MLB seasons, some back discomfort early in the game led him to end Strasburg's outing there.
"Little bit of back stiffness tonight," Williams told reporters, "so that's why he came out, but [he] just continues to throw strikes and against a really good-hitting team, they're swinging good and tonight used his changeup and his curveball effectively. He was good."
"He's got great stuff," Giants' manager Bruce Bochy said after the game. "He's throwing 95 with a good slider, changeup. You're hoping you keep the game close when you're going against a guy like Strasburg. He's got great stuff. The ball was moving. He was on top of his game."
The back issue cropped up early in the outing, the Nationals' manager explained, but it wasn't an issue before last night's start.
"Just during the start tonight," Williams said. "About the third inning he started to experience it, and once we tacked on a couple more there late we decided to get him out of there, not push it."
Strasburg was obviously working around whatever problem he was experiencing, but the Nationals' big seventh inning allowed the Nats to go to the bullpen.
"He could have, yeah," Williams told a reporter who asked if Strasburg could have kept going if it was a close game. "But it's just a question of making sure that he gets some treatment on it and he's good for his next one.
"We have Detwiler fresh in the bullpen and he can go long for us if need be, so I just didn't want to push him too much."
Strasburg's outing was his 10th straight quality start, a career-high for the right-hander even if it's a dubious measure of a pitcher's success. The Nationals' offense provided him with seven runs of support while he was on the mound. It was the sixth time Strasburg has received more than two runs of support while he was on the mound in fourteen starts by the '09 no.1 overall pick this season and the Nationals improved to 37-4 in his career when he receives 3+ runs of support from the Nats' offense.
The seven Ks Strasburg recorded gave the Nationals' starter 51 Ks in in the last seven games, over which they've issued just one walk batter.
Strasburg told reporters the outing was another example of the Nats taking a simple approach.
"We're just trying to keep it simple," he said. "That's our identity, we're going to pound the zone as a staff."
The line on @stras37: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K -- 88 pitches, 61 strikes pic.twitter.com/DygETYhuuH— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 10, 2014