In his one 2014 start in Turner Field before last night's outing, right-hander Stephen Strasburg was knocked out after just five innings of work on the mound in which the Washington Nationals' 26-year-old, '09 no.1 overall pick gave up seven hits, seven runs and four home runs in what ended up a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Strasburg was left (1-3) after seven career starts in Atlanta, with a 6.99 ERA, 18 walks (5.72 BB/9) and 37 Ks (11.75 K/9) in 28 ⅓ IP over which Braves' hitters put up a .295/.397/.543 line against him.
His struggles in Turner Field led reporters to ask if there was something about the conditions in Atlanta or maybe the mound that made him uncomfortable?
"Just another mound," Strasburg responded. "I don't know. They put good swings on mistake pitches."
When he faced the Nats' NL East rivals in the nation's capital last week, Strasburg gave up seven hits and three runs over six innings in a 6-2 loss which left him (11-11) on the year.
The loss was the Nationals' starter's first in five starts, over which he was (3-0) with a 2.20 ERA and a .209/.238/.348 line against in 32 ⅔ IP. He said afterwards that in spite of the loss he felt good about the outing.
"I felt great out there," Strasburg said. "I felt like I was hitting my spots and just a couple hits that were just out of our reach and that's the ballgame."
Last night, however, he was back on the mound in Turner Field, trying to win his first start in the Braves' home since May 26, 2012.
He did it.
Freddie Freeman singled with two down in the first, continuing his dominance in the head-to-head matchup with Strasburg with his 12th hit in 26 at bats in their respective careers, but the Braves' first baseman was stranded at the end of a 13-pitch frame.
Chris Johnson singled with one down in the second, but a 5-4-3 DP followed to end a quick, five-pitch inning.
B.J. Upton singled to start the third, but after he was bunted over to second, he was thrown out trying to steal third and Phil Gosselin's groundout ended Strasburg's third scoreless inning.
The Braves went down in order in the bottom of the fourth, but after Wilson Ramos homered to put the Nationals up 2-0 in the top of the fifth, Jason Heyward singled to start the home-half of the frame and took two bases on an errant pick attempt by Strasburg.
With a runner on third and no one out, Strasburg struck Chris Johnson out, got a grounder to third from Christian Bethancourt which failed to bring Heyward in and threw a 1-2 change by B.J. Upton to strand the runner on third.
"Just made some really nice pitches," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said when asked about Strasburg's work in the fifth.
"Some good pitches on those guys. We're going to give them the run there, no use trying to play the infield in there, we want to get outs certainly and he did a nice job of getting everybody."
"It was a little frustrating throwing that ball away," Strasburg told reporters after the game, "but I felt like I've done that before against them too, so it was a similar situation and I just wanted to go out there and pitch like there was nobody on and knowing that if it got later in the count that I had an open base to set up the double play, so I just wanted to stay within myself and if they scored they scored."
Andrelton Simmons doubled to right with two down in the sixth, but Freeman K'd looking with a runner in scoring position, taking a 3-2 curve outside that home plate ump Tim Timmons liked.
Freeman disagreed, snapped his bat in frustration, slamming it on the ground and was ejected from the game.
Strasburg came out for another inning of work in the seventh, retiring the side in order in a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 frame that left him at 90 pitches overall after seventh scoreless.
"Just throwing it where he wanted to," Williams said after the Nationals' 4-2 win and Strasburg's 12th win of the season.
"He threw some good balls in to Justin. He got Freddie a couple of times. It's important for him to throw it where he wants to, but he was in control. He had a little bit of a tight neck tonight from sleeping, but he battled through that so he wasn't on his 'A' game, but he sure pitched like it."
When he finished the fifth inning of work in Turner Field, Strasburg passed the 200-inning mark for the first time in his five-year major league career, reaching a goal he set for himself while recovering from offseason elbow surgery and preparing for the 2014 campaign.
"It's important for him to understand that he can be that horse," Williams said. "He can be the guy that throws 200+.
"I think his arm has felt good all year. And he'll continue to go out there and pitch. It's important for him given the surgery and everything else to come back and be able to do that is a real milestone for him, so we're happy for him and on the night he got over two hundred he really pitched well."
And pitched really well against the Braves, against whom he was (3-7) in 16 career starts before last night's with a 4.61 ERA and a .274/.334/.427 line against in 80 IP.
So what was different?
"I think I've just gotten a little bit better at locating pitches," Strasburg said, "and just understanding where the outs are in the lineup."
"I think it's just executing pitches," he explained. "They're a team that's really aggressive and they're going to go up there and hack and you just have to make good pitches and hopefully they hit it to one of our guys out there."
With another win over the Braves in either of the next two games in Atlanta, the Nationals will clinch a postseason berth, but as Strasburg put it, making it to the postseason has never been the goal.
"One win tomorrow might be to go to the playoffs," he said, "but that's not our ultimate goal. So we've got to keep playing good baseball."
• We talked about Strasburg's outing, the Nationals' big win and more on last night's edition of Nats Nightly: