In his first start in the majors since May 29th in Cincinnati, Stephen Strasburg tossed five scoreless against Atlanta on the mound on Tuesday night in the nation's capital, striking out six and throwing a total of 94 pitches.
Sixty-one of the 94 pitches were fastballs, 14 four-seamers and 47 two-seamers which sat around 96-97 mph. He dialed up the four-seamer to 98, and got swinging strikes with ten of the 36 fastballs Braves' hitters swung offered at.
Only two of the five fastballs that were put in play fell in for hits. The other two hits came on curveballs.
"I wanted them to swing at the fastball," Strasburg told reporters after what ended up a 3-1 and Washington's fourth straight victory overall.
"They did do a good job of working up the pitch count and fighting pitches off, but that's not something that I'm going to go out there and worry about, I'm just going to go out there and make them hit the fastball."
"I thought he pitched well," Nationals' manager Matt Williams said.
"Fouled a lot of balls off on him tonight, made his pitch count get up there. Five strong innings for us. Tonight he had some limitations, but next time out he won't have any, so we got him to his pitch count, we got through that last inning fine, and next time out he'll be good to go, but he pitched well."
"It's good to get back out there," Strasburg said. "Obviously I've been working really hard to get things going in the right direction and I was able to go out there and keep the lead."
"I wanted to go out there and execute pitches and pitch my game and I think that's something that, talking to a lot of guys in the clubhouse while I was away really kind of shed some light and what my strengths, what my weaknesses are and I really just tried to pitch to my strengths."
Williams talked before the outing about hoping that all the work Strasburg put in while on the DL would allow him to go out and pitch without having to worry about his mechanics or focus on anything but attacking hitters.
After the start, he said he saw good signs from the 26-year-old right-hander.
"He looked like he was on line," Williams explained. "He looked like he was throwing the ball where he wanted to. He tried to climb the ladder a few times and they fouled balls off, but good fastball. Not the kind of feel he probably wanted for his curveball tonight, but he threw some good ones.
"And I thought he was in command out there, he ran into a little trouble, but other than that he was throwing it where he wanted to, got some strikeouts tonight and pitched well for five innings, so good outing for him."
Strasburg said he was able to just go out on the mound and let it go.
"I think that was the number one goal going out there is that all this time I've been working on the mechanics and working on fine-tuning things," he said.
"But when you go out there between the lines, it's go out there and compete, so I wasn't going to think about mechanics at all, and I was just going to go out there and give it everything I have."
He worked around singles in the first and second innings, retired the side in order in the third, stranded a leadoff runner in the fourth and worked through trouble in the fifth after giving up a one-out double by former Nationals' outfielder Eury Perez and a walk to the opposing pitcher, Alex Wood.
"Everybody is going to have innings like that," Strasburg said, referring to the trouble in the fifth, "and you just have to stick to the game plan and you've just really got to focus on what you can control and the next pitch."
With runners on first and second in the fifth and the Nats up 3-0, Strasburg struck Jace Peterson out with a 96 mph 3-2 fastball up high and got Cameron Maybin to ground out to ground out to second with a 97 mph heater.
"He understands how to get out of innings," Williams said. "He's been there before.
"And he could reach back a little bit tonight for his fastball. He used that a lot in the last inning to get out of it. Again, five innings of really good baseball for us tonight."
In hindsight and with the time away to reflect on the first two months of the season, Strasburg said after the game that he came to a realization.
"Sometimes you've just got to take a step back to realize how bad it was," he explained, "and once I did I was kind of able to get back to what my body was supposed to feel like instead of just trying to mentally grind through it and I feel a lot stronger and feels a lot more consistent now."