Stephen Strasburg’s (4-1) June wrapped up with the right-hander giving up seven hits and four runs in seven innings of work on the mound against the Marlins last week in Miami. It wasn’t his strongest outing, but Washington’s 30-year-old starter, who finished the month with an unseemly 5.70 ERA in 30 IP, managed to hold the Fish in check as his teammates rallied for an 8-5 win.
Both the pitcher and his manager, Davey Martinez, talked after the outing about some of the adjustments Strasburg and catcher Kurt Suzuki made in reaction to what the Marlins were doing at the plate.
“Curveball was pretty good for the most part. Then they started to sit on it, especially with two strikes,” Strasburg said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“I had to flip the script a little bit.”
“I think him and ‘Zuk talked about utilizing the changeup more and more fastballs,” Martinez said, “especially when he was ahead in the count. I think when he got ahead early they were kind of sitting on the breaking balls, and he was able to throw more fastballs later in the count.”
Going up against the Marlins for a second time in a week last night and the third time this season, Strasburg dominated the Nats’ NL East rivals through five, striking out 10 of the 28 batters faced and throwing an Immaculate Inning along the way when he struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth on nine pitches, all strikes, becoming the fourth starter in franchise history to accomplish the feat (along with Max Scherzer - 6/15/18 vs. TBR; Max Scherzer - 5/14/17 vs. PHI; and Jordan Zimmermann - 5/6/11 vs. FLA).
Strasburg picked up his 11th K (from 21 batters) in a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth which left him at 82 pitches overall after six scoreless in what was still a 0-0 game.
Given a 2-0 lead to work with after Brian Dozier homered in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Nats’ starter came back out for the seventh and picked up two Ks, for 13 total from 24 batters faced, in a 16-pitch, 1-2-3 frame.
Strasburg walked and hit the first the two batters in the eighth, but picked up his 14th K with a 1-2 curve to Brian Anderson on his 110th and final pitch of the night...
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 14 Ks, 110 P, 80 S, 8/0 GO/FO.
Fernando Rodney took over for Strasburg in the eighth, and gave up a base-loading single, but got an inning-ending, rally-killing 6-4-3 DP on a weak roller to short by Harold Ramirez, who fell down on his swing, and Sean Doolittle gave up a run in the top of the ninth inning, but escaped a bases-loaded jam to earn the save.
Strasburg generated 23 swinging strikes, got eight swinging strikes with his changeup, and six Ks on his changeup, and got 20 called strikes overall in the outing.
“He was utilizing his fastball to both sides of the plate, but his changeup was really good, and he threw some good curveballs, so when he can throw the ball where he wants, he’s nasty,” Martinez said after what ended up a 3-1 win.
Asked what Strasburg is doing with his changeup when it’s working like it was, Martinez said he’s, “... throwing it down, it’s down in the zone, and when his balls are down, he’s effective.”
Strasburg said the changeup was something he focused as he worked between starts, and he felt like all of his pitches were sharp against the Fish.
“Just was able to kind of execute from the get-go,” he told reporters. “Working on a couple things in the bullpen between [starts], I felt like my changeup has kind of gotten away from me, and just tried to get back to basics, and it seemed to be much better tonight.”
A big part of his success with the change, he explained, is throwing it like his other pitches.
“I think the thing with the changeup is that for me I have to really mentally commit to it as a fastball,” Strasburg explained. “As soon as I start trying to play it out of the hand, I do something different with the delivery and hitters are able to recognize that, and when I throw a good one they take, and then I have a tendency to not really throw many good ones. So for me everything is off the fastball, and I just wanted to make a point going into the game that I was going to throw every pitch just like a fastball.”
It was a humid night in the nation’s capital too last night, and Strasburg, who’s known to sweat through a jersey or two in that sort of weather, was able to go eight strong on 110 pitches?
Has he learned how to handle the heat better over the course of his career?
“I think I’ve — to be honest since I’ve had Tommy John and as you get older you use Red Hot to kind of get hot and get it loose and I’ve kind of tried different things to not use it this year and I think it’s just really helped my body temperature,” he said.
“As you get older you start caking it on more and more and that doesn’t really help me ... being fair-skinned out there and humidity, so I’ve tried to not use it this year and it’s seemed to help.”
Considering he wrapped up his first-half (10-4) in 18 starts with a 3.64 ERA, a 3.19 FIP, 29 walks (2.24 BB/9), and 138 Ks (10.68 K/9) in 116 1⁄3 IP, whatever he’s doing is working.
“It’s been awesome,” Martinez said. “He’s been great. And I’ll say this, that over the winter he worked diligently every day, on gaining strength, on his mechanics, to get ready for the season, and this is what you get. I mean, he really put the time in. I was here with him a few times while he worked out, and he was getting after it.”
BONUS QUOTE: Did Strasburg take note of the Immaculate Inning he threw?
“Well, it kind of dawned on me a little bit later on,” he said. “I think the first pitch of that inning I threw it on the plate, but [Yan Gomes] set up in and I threw it away and for some reason I didn’t really think that was called a strike at the end, but I guess it was.”