In three starts between his first DL stint of the season, for neck tightness, and his second, for a left oblique strain, 27-year-old Washington Nationals' starter Stephen Strasburg put up impressive numbers, with a 1.15 ERA, four walks (2.30 BB/9), 18 Ks (10.34 K/9) and a .161/.217/.232 line against in 15 ⅔ innings pitched.
General Manager Mike Rizzo, however, in an MLB Network Radio interview last Sunday, said it wasn't until the '09 no.1 overall pick returned from the second trip to the Disabled List that he really turned things around.
"He was never right out of Spring Training," Rizzo told hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette, explaining how the ankle injury Strasburg suffered this Spring threw off his mechanics and his command.
"And these big strong physical guys, you can't tell by velocity, because they can all still throw the ball extremely hard and that radar gun sometimes fools us into thinking that he's got everything, but his mechanics -- as we looked into the films and the videos -- were way off. His stride leg and his land leg weren't the same and it was affecting his command.
"Once he went on the Disabled List for the side [issue] that he had and we let his ankle finally heal, fully heal, he was the old Strasburg and the guy we had seen for the previous three years and he's pitching extremely well right now."
In eight starts after the oblique injury and before Saturday's start atgainst the Philadelphia Phillies, Strasburg was (5-2), with a 2.24 ERA, six walks (1.03 BB/9) and 72 Ks (12.38 K/9) in 52 ⅓ IP, over which he held opposing hitters to a .176/.202/.232 line. He also had double digit strikeouts in four of those eight outings.
"When he was dealing with the issues and being uncomfortable out there it wasn't as easy for him to throw it where he wants to," Matt Williams explained.
"But since he's been back and healthy and feeling good, curveball has been good. Changeup has been good. But it all starts with fastball and he's been able to control it, both sides of the plate."
Strasburg declined to discuss what had been going right for him over the successful stretch of starts when he spoke to reporters after striking out ten Miami Marlins in seven innings of a 13-3 Nats' win.
"I try not to dwell on the past and dwell on the future," he said. "My focus is to go out there and compete and let the chips fall."
Strasburg put together another impressive start in the nation's capital on Saturday, striking out 13 batters and giving up just three hits and one earned run in the Nationals' 2-1 extra-innings win over the Philadelphia Phillies, a week after he struck out 14 Philly hitters in eight scoreless in Citizens Bank Park.
Strasburg retired the first twelve batters he faced this time out, before Darin Ruf singled to start the fifth, and it was Ruf again in the eighth, who connected for the second hit the Nats' starter allowed.
One out later, Brian Bogusevic doubled to drive in the one run the Phillies scored. Strasburg gave up his only walk of the game in the eighth as well, but struck out the last two batters he faced to keep it tied at 1-1.
"Good fastball command," Williams said. "Changeup was really good.
"With all the lefties they've got in the lineup, changeup was really good. I believe Bogusevic hit a changeup, first-pitch changeup. If in fact it was, it was the only one that he left up tonight.
"Threw really well. Continues to pitch well. In command. It was a big eighth inning for him. Even after giving up the run, coming back and shutting that inning down is big for him."
"Just trying to do what I've been doing and keep competing," Strasburg said. "Keep fighting."
In four September starts, Strasburg's now collected 50 Ks (14.83 K/9) and just four walks (1.19 BB/9) in 30 ⅓ IP, posting a 1.48 ERA and a .144/.176/.240 line against over that stretch.
"I'm just trying to go out there and do my job," he said Saturday. "Keep it close and again, compete."
Even after the Nationals were officially eliminated from postseason contention, they continued to fight as they went to extra innings with the Phillies tied at 1-1 before Bryce Harper's walk-off double gave the Nationals the win.
"Just continue to fight," Williams said.
"Strasburg pitched really well. Bullpen pitched really well. Kept us in it. Gave us a chance to win it with Bryce's swing. So good effort from everybody today. They've been giving a good effort every day and today is no exception."
The Nationals were, however, officially eliminated from postseason contention with eight games to play. Strasburg said the last week-plus is still important.
"It's tough," he explained.
"What can you do? Just play the rest of these games and play hard. I think that will say a lot about this ballclub, how we finish this season out and see what we're made of. Let's get on a hot streak here and carry it into Spring Training next year."