Stephen Strasburg’s only outing with double-digit Ks this season, before today, came in his April 20th start against the Atlanta Braves in SunTrust Park.
His three Ks in his last start before this afternoon’s left him with 48 Ks overall in 52 2⁄3 innings pitched this season, good for 8.20 K/9, which was down from 10.13, 10.96, and 11.15 K/9 in the previous three seasons, respectively.
“Everybody puts emphasis on the strikeouts,” Baker explained, “but you’ve got to get them out.
“I don’t pay any attention to the strikeout numbers, I pay attention to how many guys he gets out.”
Strasburg piled up the Ks early today, however, in his second start in SunTrust Park, striking out six of the first 14 batters he faced as he limited the Braves to two hits through four scoreless, throwing 61 pitches total, 48 for strikes.
Strasburg was up to 80 pitches, and eight Ks after he added two strikeouts in a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth, and he added his ninth K in the seventh, working around a leadoff double to complete another scoreless frame.
All 11 Ks in just 11 seconds. pic.twitter.com/At4SNT28mX— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 21, 2017
With a strikeout in the first at bat of the eighth, he reached double digits in Ks for the second time this season, but he issued his first walk of the afternoon to rookie Rio Ruiz in the next at bat and gave up a single and a two-run double before he was lifted from what was suddenly a one-run game, 3-2 in the Nationals’ favor.
Strasburg finished the game with 11 Ks in 7 2⁄3 IP, throwing 118 pitches total, one short of his career high.
He gave the Nationals exactly what they needed, allowing Baker to go right to Koda Glover for the final four outs of the game and give the rest of his bullpen a day off.
“We needed every bit of it,” Baker said, after the Nationals avoided being swept and stopped a four-game losing streak.
“[Strasburg] was very sharp. All of his pitches were sharp. He threw a bunch of strikes, and they played us tough. Every game here was tough. It’s never easy. That’s the thing about it: If you’re looking for an easy job, this ain’t the one.
“We love what he gave us,” Baker added.
Strasburg’s curveball was well-nigh unhittable. He threw 34 total, 25 for strikes, and got 15 swings and 10 misses with the breaking ball today.
He pounded the zone all afternoon, throwing 86 of 118 pitches for strikes overall.
“That’s as many strikes as I’ve seen him throw, period,” Baker said. “We were hoping he’d go deep, deep, deep into the game, which he did.”
“We have our eye on the pitch count every inning,” he continued, “and then you start kind of averaging, ‘Okay, at this rate he’ll go eight and if he has a short inning he might even go nine, but he gave us all he had and we decided to go with him in the eighth, because if you’re going to be a great pitcher, you don’t go out and get the great pitchers in that situation.
“The way I was always taught by the greats, [Sandy] Koufax, [Don] Drysdale, [Max] Scherzer, the top pitchers, [is] that it’s their game, and if you’ve got to extend him one more hitter than that’s what you do because you’d hate for him to do two hours of work [and have] it ruined in thirty seconds.”
Baker wasn’t the only one impressed with Strasburg’s outing.
Braves’ skipper Brian Snitker said even having some of the legends from Braves’ history might not have helped today.
“[Strasburg] was really — I don’t know if he missed a spot all day until the end,” Snitker told reporters. “I mean, it was just... I told [Hitting Coach Kevin Seitzer] we could have had Hank [Aaron] and [Dale Murphy] and some of them guys in the lineup and I don’t think it would have mattered, because he was really good.”
With the win, Strasburg improved to (5-1) on the season with a 3.28 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 17 walks (2.54 BB/9) and 59 Ks (8.80 K/9) in 60 1⁄3 innings pitched.