clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Nationals pushing all the right buttons with Stephen Strasburg so far in 2016...

New, comments

Stephen Strasburg takes the mound tonight in the first game of the second half for the Washington Nationals. Coming off an historic first-half, Strasburg is primed for the stretch run. How did he get here?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In his first start back after a stint on the 15-Day Disabled List for an "upper back strain", Stephen Strasburg took a no-hit bid against the Cincinnati Reds into the seventh inning in Washington, D.C.'s Nationals Park.

He was up to 93 pitches after six innings though, and two outs into the seventh, at 109 total, veteran skipper Dusty Baker made the decision to end the outing in spite of the fact that Strasburg hadn't allowed a hit.

It wasn't a difficult decision.

"I think the DL stint, the good thing is that it wasn't something that was impacting my throwing arm, so it wasn't really like really a big process to try and get back into things..." -Stephen Strasburg on his recent DL stint

"No, because he had just come off the DL," Baker explained, "so you've got to weigh the future with the present.

"You just think about, 'We're going to need him.' And he was outstanding his first time out there against a very good offensive club."

Strasburg walked four batters, struck out five and earned his 11th win of the season in what ended up a 12-1 decision in the Nationals' favor.

"He threw an outstanding game," Baker said. "We were trying to get him through the seventh, but his pitch count got kind of high, especially his first time out there. It's tough taking a guy out of there with a no-hitter, but we've got to think about the future and where he had come from off the DL."

Strasburg said he understood the decision.

"I understand where he’s coming from, yeah," Strasburg told reporters, including Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes. "There’s more important things, hopefully, down the road for this team."

He followed up on that outing with seven strong against the New York Mets last Friday night in Citi Field, walking three, striking out nine and giving up two hits and one earned run in a 3-1 win.

He allowed just those two hits from the 50 batters he faced in 13 ⅔ innings pitched after the DL stint.

"I think the DL stint, the good thing is that it wasn't something that was impacting my throwing arm, so it wasn't really like really a big process to try and get back into things," he explained.

"I think my arm felt good when my trap and back subsided a little bit, so I was able to throw in-between and maintain what I've been working on."

"They came to me and they said that that was what they were thinking and in my head I'm like, 'I want to make up for the two starts I missed...'" -Stephen Strasburg on not pitching in All-Star Game

Though Baker wasn't here to see Strasburg up close in the past, he said that from what he's heard, the 27-year-old right-hander is a different pitcher and person this season.

What's different?

"The thing that I noticed is that walks and plays and stuff behind him don't bother him," Baker said.

"Cause before I had heard that a walk in the wrong situation or a play or whatever it is might bother a younger pitcher, but like I said, he's really matured. He's unemotional basically, on the mound and off the mound, but you know that he has that burning desire to succeed in his heart, you can tell by the way he goes about his business."

That start left him (12-0) in 16 outings this season, with a 2.62 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, 31 walks (2.62 BB/9), 132 Ks (11.14 K/9) and a .199/.264/.320 line against in 106 ⅔ innings pitched.

Three days earlier, he'd been named to the NL roster for the MLB All-Star Game for the second time in his career, but before the start against the Mets, the Nationals announced that Strasburg would not pitch in the Midsummer Classic.

In spite of the fact that it was being held in his hometown, Strasburg said he understood the thinking in holding him out of the game.

"They came to me and they said that that was what they were thinking and in my head I'm like, 'I want to make up for the two starts I missed,' so hopefully be ready to start the first game back and get the second-half going right."

General Manager Mike Rizzo talked, in an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. this week, about the decision to hold Strasburg out of the All-Star Game.

"We saw something that has been ongoing with the back issues that Strasburg has had," Rizzo explained.

"It put him on the Disabled List twice for the same thing last year. Put him on the Disabled List once this year for the exact same thing and we felt that we didn't want him going out there on what would have been four days rest and risk that the back would act up again."

"Pitch one inning on short days' rest, and you never know," Rizzo said of creating a potential issue. "You have a better chance of doing it than pitching no innings."

Now Strasburg is well-rested and ready to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight.

A win will give him the second-longest unbeaten streak by a starter in D.C.-baseball history, one short of the all-time mark of seventeen-straight wins set by Washington Senators' righty Firpo Marberry in 1930-31.