Early in their time together with the Washington Nationals, after a five-inning Spring Training outing in March of 2016 in which Stephen Strasburg tossed five scoreless on 68 pitches, recording nine strikeouts, Dusty Baker noted that the hard-throwing right-hander was not particularly happy about his success on the mound.
“I’m learning about Stras,” Baker told reporters, as quoted in the Washington Post. “Is he ever really happy? Well, we’re trying to make him happier.”
Following a complete game shutout of the Miami Marlins on Wednesday afternoon in the nation’s capital, Baker was asked if he’d achieved his goal of making the now-29-year-old starter happier?
“I haven’t accomplished it yet,” Baker said. “He’s making me very happy.”
Strasburg needed just 55 pitches to get through five innings in the finale with the Fish, working around a leadoff triple in the fifth, and he homered to lead off the home-half of the inning taking left-hander Adam Conley deep to right field, over the out-of-town scoreboard, for his second home run of the season and third of his career. He ended up going 2 for 4 overall at the plate.
He provided himself with all the run support he needed, though the Nats added three more runs in a 4-0 win, in which he threw a complete game, extending his personal streak of scoreless innings pitched to 20-straight going back two starts to his outing against the San Diego Padres in Petco Park.
“He had great command of all his pitches, namely his fastball, in and out,” Baker said after Strasburg snapped a three-start winless streak in the Nats’ win over the Marlins.
“He had a good curveball, and slider, and occasional changeup. He was very determined from the beginning. You could just sort of tell the look on his face. He had a great day. It was his day today.”
Things got interesting in the end, though Strasburg cruised through most of his start.
He started the ninth at 87 pitches and needed 23 to get the final three outs of his first complete game of the season, which was just the second of his career.
“He wanted it, and you could tell that he wanted it,” Baker said. “And if a guy wants it, then I’m going to give it to him.”
He did, however, consider going to the mound as Strasburg’s pitch count passed 100 after a leadoff single to left by Christian Yelich and swinging K from Marcell Ozuna in front of J.T. Realmuto, who was 3 for 3 on the day, and 6 for 15 in his career against Strasburg to that point.
“I was prepared to go get him because Realmuto had been on him all day,” Baker said, “... and if another had gotten on and Realmuto was up then I was probably going to go get him, because he had thrown I think 90 and 91 his last two outings after he was out for a while, and he looked strong, like I said, he looked determined, and he didn’t have an exorbitant amount of pitches, but he was very efficient with his pitches all day.
“I think he only walked one guy, and that’s the key.”
Strasburg laughed when asked about hitting the home run, noting that he hadn’t, “... had BP in such a long time,” and so, “really didn’t have high expectations,” when he stepped to the plate. He also laughed when he was asked when he started to think that he might be able to throw a complete game.
“You can’t sit here after the first inning and think, ‘I’m going to go nine today,’” he said, “the game is way too hard. So you just try to break up the game, take it one pitch at a time and go as long as you can until they take the ball.”
Strasburg also credited his catcher, Jose Lobaton, with calling a good game.
“There were a couple times that I had to shake, but it was like immediately he kind of knew where I wanted to go with the at bat, so it was fun just throwing it down and away, and letting him frame it up.”
“We were pretty much overmatched it seemed like today,” Miami’s manager Don Mattingly said after the Marlins were swept in their three-game set in D.C.
“I mean, he had 73 [pitches] I think through seven innings, so ten pitches an inning basically.”
“He had us swinging early, ahead in the count,” Mattingly explained. “We didn’t really mount much of a charge.”
“I don’t remember really anything hit hard.”