On the mound in his hometown of San Diego's Petco Park last time out, 26-year-old Washington Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg earned his third win of the season, throwing a total of 91 pitches in five innings in which he gave up five hits and three earned runs while striking out seven.
It was an improvement over his previous two outings, back-to-back losses in which he gave up 12 hits and 10 runs (9 ER) in 6 ⅓ IP (12.79 ERA) with opposing hitters putting up a .400/.457/.767 line against him.
It still wasn't vintage Strasburg, but as both he and Nationals' manager Matt Williams said after the game, it was a start to build on.
"Better," Williams said. "A little more aggressive today. Ran into trouble in the last inning. He did a nice job of pitching out of that first, but he used his fastball today, which was a good sign."
"It was a high pitch count early," the second-year skipper said.
"But he settled in enough to get him into the sixth inning anyway and if he didn't have any issue there, then we'd let him go through that inning too. So I thought it was good, much better than last time out for sure and something to build on."
Strasburg said the difference between the latest outing and his recent rough ones was his command.
"Just locating my fastball better," he said. "I think my changeup to lefties was a little bit better. Curveball was good too."
The outing left the right-hander (3-4) on the year with a 5.98 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, 12 walks (2.44 BB/9) and 42 Ks (9.30 K/9) in eight starts and 40 ⅔ IP over which he has a .389 BABIP-against and a .316/.368/.460 line against overall.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," Strasburg said. "It's just something that I'm working through right now. It's progress. So, can't be mad about that."
The good news is that he appears to be healthy after another in a long line of injury issues and scares for the '09 no.1 overall pick.
Today in D.C., Strasburg will face the Philadelphia Phillies, against whom he put together one of his best starts of the season back on April 19th in the nation's capital.
Strasburg gave up five hits and one earned run in that outing, with seven Ks in 7 ⅓ innings pitched, over which he threw a total of 95 pitches.
The start left him (5-1) in 12 career starts against the Nationals' NL East rivals, in which he's put up a 2.00 ERA with 11 walks (1.30 BB/9) and 89 Ks (10.49 K/9) in 76 ⅓ IP in which he's held Phillies' hitters to a combined .204/.238/.303 line.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, in an MLB Network Radio interview on Friday, talked to Mike Ferrin and Jim Bowden about what he's seen from Strasburg, assuring the hosts that it's not a health issue.
"He's not hurt," Rizzo said. "In San Diego, he was 95 to 98, he had as good a fastball as he's had velocity-wise throughout the whole season. He was hitting his spots better. His breaking ball was much better.
"It was a mechanical flaw. I don't know if we can attribute it back to the sprained ankle in Spring Training. It's a possibility. But his mechanics got a little bit out of whack. I'm not worried much about Stephen Strasburg.
"As long as he says he's healthy, which he is, his stuff is there... I call them averages, they're averages for a reason because his ERA is way too high for his ability level. And I think he's going to seek his levels and his levels are really good, so I see good things coming out of [Strasburg] down the road the rest of the season."
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