Stephen Strasburg entered tonight's start (1-8) in 12 starts away from Washington D.C. this season, with a 5.25 ERA, 3.99 FIP and a .285/.341/.487 line against in 70 ⅓ innings pitched on the road in 2014.
The Nationals' 26-year-old ace was coming off a particularly frustrating start against the Atlanta Braves in Turner Field last Friday night and looking to bounce back along with his teammates, who dropped 2 of 3 to the NL East's second place team, but took the first two games of their three game set with the Mets in New York's Citi Field.
In seven innings of work tonight, the 2009 no.1 overall pick reminded everyone just how good he can be when he's on, striking out eight and allowing just three hits by the Mets, who pushed one unearned run across on a sac fly in the fourth.
As Nats' skipper Matt Williams has explained before and did again tonight after Strasburg led the Nationals to a 4-1 win and a sweep of the three-game set with the Mets, it's all about the right-hander's fastball command.
"Tonight he had really good fastball command, both sides of the plate," Williams said. "And that's where it starts with him. If he can do that it just opens up everything else. He pitched well. He had a jam there in the middle inning, but he got out of it with a great double play ball, so he pitched really well."
The jam the first-year skipper referred to came about in the sixth when Strasburg gave up a pinch hit double by Eric Young, Jr. and a walk to Curtis Granderson. With some relievers stirring in the bullpen behind him, Strasburg worked his way out of trouble. Daniel Murphy grounded into a 4-6-3 double play in the next at bat rolling over a 1-2 curve, and David Wright K'd swinging at another bender to end the threat.
A one-out walk in the seventh had the Nationals stalling while Drew Storen warmed, but Strasburg struck Matt den Dekker with a backdoor 0-2 breaking ball and blew Juan Lagares with a fastball to complete his final inning of work with his seventh and eighth Ks.
Mets' manager Terry Collins laughed to himself before answering a question about what the Nationals' starter did so well on the mound tonight.
"I'd probably have to say," Collins told reporters, "the one thing he did you saw a good two-seamer tonight, really commanded it, kept it down. Threw his four-seamer up in the zone... and he gets you hunting for the fastball and then he can drop that curveball on you and it's tough to hit."
Williams was asked if this was Strasburg's best start on the road this season?
"Yeah, probably," he said. "He's been working hard at it. I'm proud of him. We're happy for him. He works extremely hard to be as good as he can be and so tonight was an example of what he can do."
Williams told reporters before tonight's game that he had a feeling Strasburg would put together a good outing, so one writer wondered what it was he saw?
"Just the way he's been working," Williams explained. "Asking questions, talking to his teammates and gaining knowledge and wanting to be really good. And tonight he was. Like I said, the key for him is down in the zone to both sides of the plate and he was able to from the first pitch tonight."
Strasburg was also able to work inside on the Mets' hitters.
"It's a big part of his game," Williams said. "If he can do that then he opens up the plate for himself a little bit, so he did that effectively tonight."
With the win, and Atlanta's seventh loss in their last 10, the Nationals took a 6.0 game lead in the division, but Williams wasn't hearing any talk of it being a comfortable lead.
"I just feel that we've just got to keep playing," he said. "I'm proud of them coming here and bouncing back from the Braves series, and now we get a chance to go home for a long homestand, so, they played really well here and that's all we can take from it is that we played well here, now we've got to go do it at home."
The Nationals' three-game set with the 64-57 Pittsburgh Pirates starts tomorrow night at 7:05 in D.C.
• We talked about Strasburg's outing, Harper's power and more on the latest edition of Nats Nightly after tonight's game: