After a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday night in the nation's capital, 26-year-old Washington Nationals' starter Stephen Strasburg was up to just 95 pitches, having allowed only one run on a first-inning home run by D-Backs' right fielder David Peralta.
Strasburg could have and would have gone back out for the ninth, but Nats' skipper Matt Williams went to his bullpen for Jerry Blevins, whose scoreless ninth closed out the Nationals' eighth straight win, 8-1 final.
"Certainly [Strasburg] could have gone out for the ninth, which is great," Williams explained after the game.
"But we needed to get Blevins in the game too, in the last week or so he hasn't pitched much."
Strasburg, Williams said, was obviously, "Really good."
"With the exception of the homer in the first, he was in complete control. Not a lot of strikeouts, but a lot of ground balls. Limited pitch count, putting the ball in play, which is good."
After his 27th start of the 2014 campaign, which saw the Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick give up three hits total, one run on the solo home run and one walk, while striking out four and inducing seven ground and six fly ball outs, he improved to (10-10) on the year with a 3.41 ERA, a 3.00 FIP, 38 walks (2.00 BB/9) and a new single-season high 198 Ks (10.40 K/9) in 171 ⅓ IP.
Strasburg understood Williams' decision, but added this: 'If it was a shutout, I think you’d have to rip the ball out of my hands.' #Nats— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) August 20, 2014
With the first eight-inning outing of the season, Strasburg also spared the Nationals' bullpen, which Williams said was definitely appreciated.
"Everybody is fully aware of where we're at going into the game today," Williams told reporters. "Like I said, he could have gone back out [for the ninth] if need be, but with the way the game was at that point, there's no need to do that. We don't have a whole lot of off days, so I don't want to push him too much, but yeah, he stepped up."
Strasburg's willingness to pound hitters inside last time out against the New York Mets was talked about everywhere after the solid outing on the road in Citi Field. Williams was asked after another strong start tonight in Nationals Park how much of a role that played in Strasburg's success?
"Quite a bit," Williams said. "Quite a bit. It opens the plate for him. And allows him to throw his other pitches with even more effectiveness. But I think the biggest thing it does, it opens up the down and away and that's important for him."
As for Strasburg reaching a new season-high in strikeouts, the first-year skipper said that wasn't reallly a surprise.
"He's got good stuff," Williams said. "He's got really good stuff. And with the three pitches that he does throw, he can neutralize both left and right. The curveball to the righty, changeup when he wants it. Changeup to the left-hander which looks like a fastball coming out of his hand. That's just good stuff."
The Nationals need a strong outing from Strasburg and they got it. They also won their eighth straight game in the process and helped the right-hander get back to .500 on the year.