Matt Williams was asked how impressed he was with Stephen Strasburg's return from the DL after tonight's 6-1 win over the Colorado Rockies.
"He can really hit," Washington's second-year skipper joked with members of the press who watched Strasburg strike out 12 batters in seven innings, over which he threw just 91 pitches. He also went 3 for 3 at the plate. But the success on the mound in his return from his second DL stint of the season was the big news of the night in the nation's capital.
"He was good," Williams said. "He just ... fastball command was there. Curveball command was there, and he threw some really good changeups as well to the lefties. And he can hit."
Strasburg gave up a leadoff double to center by Rockies' outfielder Charlie Blackmon in the first at bat of the game, and a sac bunt by Jose Reyes put Blackmon 90 feet from home, but the Nats' starter stranded him there, retiring both Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado.
Williams said Strasburg's ability to command his fastball early was a good sign.
"If he's got fastball down and away to the right-hander early on, then he's got a lot of weapons," Williams explained.
"Climbed the ladder a couple of times on fastballs as well, but he felt good coming in and the last time out he felt great in his rehab start, so I thought he was in command all night."
"I feel like my feel for my pitches has always been there," Strasburg told reporters.
"I think it's just knowing what I want to do with it in certain spots, and I've just been working hard and just continually preparing as much as I can for these guys and trying to have a good game plan."
Strasburg gave up three hits total, one of them a home run by the red-hot Arenado, who sent a 95 mph 1-0 fastball into the left field bullpen in the fourth. Williams said even that fastball was a good pitch.
"I think even the ball to Arenado is probably -- again it's hard for us to tell side -- we can tell height from the dugout -- but I think that ball was in, he pulled his hands in on it. Fastball in to the righty is key for him if he can throw that for strikes, it just opens up everything else. As a hitter, mentality, you have to gauge for that if he can throw it in there, and it takes you off the other pitches."
Williams considered sending Strasburg back out for the eighth, but the bottom of the seventh ended up being a long inning when the Nationals rallied and added two runs.
"No sense pushing him. He's got more pitches left, he can go to 105, but first time out, no sense pushing if we don't have to."
In the last few weeks, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth have returned to the lineup and now Strasburg's back from the DL as well.
Having him back in the rotation, Williams said, gives the Nationals another weapon.
"He's just another great starter for us. He can do what he did tonight. That's a pretty good-hitting team over there and he kept them in check. So that just gives us another weapon in the arsenal to go win a game. So I know he's pleased with it, we're all pleased with it. And look forward to the next one."
"He's one of the best in baseball," Bryce Harper said after the Nationals' 57th win and Strasburg's sixth.
"When he's out there doing his things, painting 98 on the black, reaching 99 sometimes, great curveball, good changeup, he's got a lot of -- three plus pitches, four plus pitches, so he's very good out there and when he's in control, he's unhittable."