Stephen Strasburg threw 95 pitches in 5 ⅓ innings in his 2015 debut against the New York Mets, over which he gave up nine hits and six runs, three earned in a 6-3 loss. In his second start last week in Boston's Fenway Park, Strasburg was up to 105 pitches with one down in the fifth when he was lifted, having surrendered 10 hits and five earned runs.
This afternoon in the nation's capital, the Washington Nationals' 2009 no.1 overall pick was much more efficient, with an eight-pitch first, a seven-pitch second, a six-pitch third, 11-pitch fourth and an 18-pitch fifth which left him at 50 pitches overall after five.
The 26-year-old right-hander didn't give up a hit until there were two down in the fifth, and after a 21-pitch sixth, he was at just 71 pitches. A quick, 13-pitch seventh pushed him up to 84, and he was 11 pitches into the seventh, at 95 pitches total, when the Philadelphia Phillies finally scored a run on him and Nats' skipper Matt Williams went to the pen with a 4-1 lead.
Strasburg's Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 95 P, 73 S, 7/4 GO/FO.
"That may be as good as I've seen him," Williams told reporters after the win gave the Nationals three games of the four-game set with the Phillies.
"He pitched at 92-93 [mph] and was able to reach back when he needed it for 95+, so, I think for me, that makes his changeup even more effective."
"I thought my changeup was a pitch that I was able to use more effectively today," he explained in his own post game interview.
"I think my curveball was pretty much the same," Strasburg said. "I think it's just the command of my changeup and the feel for my changeup was much better."
Asked what he did between starts to get more comfortable, Strasburg said he just focused on what he wanted to do with each pitch and then executed them.
"You just work on things," he said. "You try to remember what the keys are, what you try [to] do with a pitch, where you want to execute it and you've just got to try to paint that picture in your head and go out there and just let it go."
"Today he threw [his changeup] for strikes when he wanted to," Williams continued.
"Out of the zone when he needed to. I don't know if I've seen him better than that. Pitch count was down. If he didn't give up that run there and he still had no runs against him he may have gone back out. Really good. It's as good as I've seen him."
Strasburg, informed of his manager's comments, said he was just trying to go out there and get outs.
"I mean, I just wanted to go out there and have them not score runs and give us an opportunity to go out there and win the game," he said. "It was great having Denard [Span] back out there in center and I think [the] clubhouse, just having a guy like that, [to] have his presence here, I think it lifted everybody up and everybody played great."
Williams explained that when Strasburg has his change working, it's the perfect complement for his fastball.
"I think when he throws hard and he sits at 95 or 96, the changeup isn't necessarily for a strike," Williams said.
"So if the opposing team can recognize that then they don't swing at it. Today he threw it for strikes when he wanted to. It just adds more to his repertoire. More weapons for him. Curveball for strikes too, elevated when he needed to. He was really good."
The Nats' second-year skipper liked what he saw and was happy with a more-efficient outing from Strasburg and the fact that he was able to use all of the weapons in his arsenal.
"It's difficult when he's throwing them all for strikes," Williams said. "He did today. He could throw first-pitch curveball. He threw a couple of first-pitch changeups for strikes. All of those add to it. As a hitter, you stand in there and go, 'Well, he's throwing them all for strikes, I need to be agressive.' They get behind. They early-swing. If they're not swinging, they take it and it's a strike and it's important. His ability to throw all of them for strikes is important for him going forward, because he can throw any of them at any point and get himself a -- steal a strike from that count. So, he was really good."
Asked how he was able to be so efficient this time out, Strasburg admitted that the Phillies' hitters helped.
"They were swinging early, it's kind of part of it," he said. "You want them to put the ball in play, four pitches or less and they were doing that."