Before he took the mound in Tuesday night’s NL Wild Card Game and tossed three innings in relief without allowing a run, Stephen Strasburg had not pitched in relief since he was a freshman at San Diego State University in 2007.
He did just fine, however, throwing a total of 34 pitches after replacing Max Scherzer in the sixth inning of what ended up being a 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I mean it is something I haven’t done in a really long time and it is what it is,” Strasburg told reporters after it was announced that even though he’d pitched on Tuesday, he would be on the mound for Game 2 of the NLDS with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Just try to focus on what you can control and just disregard everything that you can’t,” the now 31-year-old right-hander said when asked how he handled the relief appearance.
“That’s kind of the nature of the business,” he added. “Sometimes you’re going to have to deal with some things that you wouldn’t expect and bottom line is you still have to go out there and compete.”
Stephen Strasburg, 84mph Curveball & 88mph Changeup, Overlay (two different ABs vs Seager) pic.twitter.com/vqhl40vXGk— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 5, 2019
Strasburg’s manager, Davey Martinez, was excited to hear that the right-hander felt he was good to go for Game 2.
“He came to [Pitching Coach Paul Menhart]. He came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m ready. So he’s got the ball,” Martinez said on Thursday.
The second-year skipper did say he would be watching Strasburg closely for any signs of fatigue while he was in the game.
“We’re going to keep a close eye on him and just watch his mechanics,” Martinez explained.
“We’ll see, if he’s landing hard, that’s a good indication that he might be getting tired. But I think that, like I said, I think he’s ready to go, that’s for sure. He feels good. So the mid- innings is going to be where I tend to really like start figuring out where he’s at. But we’ll know — I’ll know right away. [Pitching coach Paul Menhart] will know as well. If he is flying open, if he’s started landing hard, then we need to really start paying attention to that.”
Stephen Strasburg, Filthy 88mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/937L4QF7TI— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 5, 2019
Going on three days rest tonight, Strasburg, who faced LA twice in the regular season this year, going (1-1) with a 2.08 ERA, two walks, 16 Ks and a .140/.208/.209 line against in 13 IP, got off to a strong start, retiring the first nine batters he faced, striking out five, as the Nats jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
A 10-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth, in which he picked up another strikeout left Strasburg at 47 pitches after four scoreless and hitless, with six Ks from 12 batters.
He got up to 14 straight outs before Will Smith singled to center for the Dodgers’ first hit in the bottom of the fifth, but Strasburg stranded the first batter to reach base, and picked up three more Ks for nine from 16 batters overall, and 72 pitches total after five scoreless in LA.
Pinch hitter Matt Beaty singled to right with one out in the sixth, and took third on a double to center by Joc Pederson, before scoring on a sac fly to right by Justin Turner that got the Dodgers on the board, down 3-1, but Strasburg held it there, completing six innings on just 85 pitches with a two-run lead...
Strasburg. Curveball. Yikes. pic.twitter.com/AkiwNA6bdp— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 5, 2019
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 Ks, 85 P, 57 S, 4/2 GO/FO.
The Nationals went to the bullpen in the bottom of seventh, with Sean Doolittle taking over for Strasburg and giving up a run on a solo home run by Max Muncy, but Max Scherzer got through a scoreless eighth, and Daniel Hudson left them loaded in the ninth in what ended up a 4-2 win.
Strasburg finished the night with a 0.64 ERA in five games, four starts, and 28 postseason inninings pitched in his career. Is there a reason he seems to handle the pressure so well?
“I just learned over the years that pressure’s a funny thing and I think it’s something that you have complete control over,” Strasburg told reporters after the Nationals’ win evened things up in the NLDS, 1-1.
“There’s obviously a lot of expectations,” he added, “... there’s a lot of excitement in games, but I really tried over the years to train my mind into thinking that every single game is just as important and just sticking to my approach. I mean, my approach is everything and the results are one thing and how I respond to those results is just as important.”
Strasburg finished the night with 20 swinging strikes (nine on his curve), and 15 called strikes (eight with his curveball), which he threw 34 times, something that caught the Dodgers off guard, according to their manager, in spite of the fact that Strasburg threw breaking balls 30.6% of the time this season, up from a career average of 21.3%, holding opposing hitters to a .162 AVG on the pitch in the regular season.
“Strasburg was very good tonight, obviously,” Dave Roberts said. “He was — fastball played, located it, and he went to his curveball. I think he used his curveball half the time tonight.
“He was getting ahead all night and putting us away with that.”
“I didn’t execute some early and got away with them early on in the game,” Strasburg said.
“My command got better as the game went on.”
He dominated Dodgers’ hitters, the 31-year-old right-hander explained, by focusing on his own strengths against a tough lineup.
“You try and do your homework and look at their weaknesses a little bit,” he explained, “but they’re a pretty deep lineup so sometimes there’s not many weaknesses there and you just got to go out there and pitch to your strengths.”
Martinez said he was watching his starter closely, as he said he would, and decided against sending him back out for the bottom of the seventh.
“He started getting the ball up a little bit and I could tell he’s taking a little bit more time in between pitches,” the second-year skipper said.
“And that was, I thought that was it, he had enough. He just pitched three innings two days ago, so he did a great job for us.”