Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams praised Stephen Strasburg's ability to and willingness to pitch inside in each of his last two outings before today's, in successful starts against New York and Arizona.
In back-to-back outings after a "disastrous" start against the Braves in Atlanta's Turner Field, the Nationals' 26-year-old, '09 no.1 overall pick shut the opposition down, limiting the Mets and D-Backs' hitters to just six hits and two runs, one earned, in 15 IP over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .128/.176/.234 line.
"It opens the plate for him," Williams said, "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."
Before Strasburg took the mound against the San Francisco Giants in the series finale of this weekend's three-game set in the nation's capital, Williams spoke about what the right-hander would have to do to repeat what made his last few outings so successful.
"Every five days he's got to go again," Williams told reporters. "The only thing you can really look to is how you were the last time out. But then again, that really doesn't matter anyway, because if you don't go out and make your pitches, then you can get beat.
"So he has to, again, look at the last two and say, "Okay, what has been the secret to my success? I need to continue to do that and make sure that I'm executing all those quadrants and all those things that we talk about about,' but then let it go because it's staring you in the face again today or tomorrow."
"The last two have been really good," the Nats' skipper continued. "He's been in control out there and commanded the ball really well and that's what he's looking to do again."
It didn't go as planned, of course.
Strasburg gave up leadoff solo home runs in each of the first two innings on a 3-2 fastball to Gregor Blanco in the first and a 1-2 fastball to Travis Ishikawa in the second. The home runs were just the second home runs of the year by each hitter.
His pitch count was up.
Back-to-back singles started the Giants' third and an RBI double by Michael Morse drove in the third run off the Nationals' starter. A walk and sac fly followed, 4-0, and a two-out RBI single made it 5-0 Giants after three.
Strasburg was up to 79 pitches after four, when the Nationals rallied with back-to-back doubles by Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche driving in the Nats' first run.
Asdrubal Cabrera hit the third double of the inning two outs later and a walk by Jose Lobaton put two with two out in what was then a 5-2 game in the Giants' favor.
So Williams hit for Strasburg, ending his outing after just four innings in which he allowed eight hits, two walks and five earned runs.
As for Strasburg's attempt to keep pounding hitters in?
"Today he didn't get it there," Williams said.
And when you don't get pitches inside?
"If it's not in, it's middle," the former major league slugger said. "He threw some good fastballs down and away to the right-handers today. But he also missed location a few times and they got him. That's part of pitching, it happens.
"The fact that the guys were able to come back and win the game is saying something, but he wasn't as sharp as the last two outings today."
Strasburg was off the hook for the loss by the end of the sixth when the Nationals scored six runs to overtake the Giants. They added six more over the next two innings in what ended up a 14-6 win.
Strasburg ended the day with a 3.59 ERA on the year, a 3.14 FIP, 40 walks (2.05 BB/9) and 202 Ks (10.37 K/9) in 28 starts and 175 ⅓ IP.
With the inconsistent outings, the up and down results and occasional gems, Williams was asked if Strasburg was still learning what kind of pitcher he was and finding his style?
"I don't think so," Williams said. "I think he's established who he is and how he's going to go about doing it. He's got wonderful talent and the ability to throw the ball in the mid-to-high 90s. And then that's great, but he's like nobody else. Everybody's got to be able to throw where they want to and if you don't, if you leave the ball in the middle of the plate, you have a chance to get it hit. And that was the case today. The last two outings, that wasn't the case, he threw really well and threw it exactly where he wanted to."