Stephen Strasburg put the team on his back last night, pitching them to their first win in three games, and their first road win since April 25. The Nats' ace recorded 13 strikeouts on the night, giving the club an opportunity to claim the 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What made Strasburg's start all-the-more impressive is that he didn't seem to have his best overall stuff last night. While his fastball may have been the best we've seen it since he underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago (induced 9 swinging strikes), he had trouble spotting his curveball on two strike counts, and his changeup was inconsistent. This meant that he earned a strikeout in 13 out of 18 outs recorded by simply challenging and beating hitters with the heater.
The 24-year-old now has 27 strikeouts in 13 career innings pitched against the Pirates.
- The Nats won just won game this series, but all three contests were close. Credit that fact to the return of first baseman Adam LaRoche. In three games he reached base in 8/12 plate appearances, earning four hits, two home runs, and four RBI. LaRoche simply was the main force of the Nationals run production this week against his former team. It's crazy to think how most fans in Washington were ready to give up on the 2010 free-agent acquisition after he managed to hit just .172 in 43 games before injury last year. Through the team's first 31 contests this year, he is very clearly their offensive MVP.
- Strasburg again had trouble pitching with runners on base last night. Given the discussions MASN was showing in the dugout between him, Jesus Flores, and Steve McCatty, it seemed as if Washington felt Pittsburgh was picking up their signs with runners on second base. Earlier this year, after one of his "down" starts, the Nats hurler said he felt he was tipping his pitches.
This seems to be a problem with Strasburg more often than the other Nats starters. It very well could be that teams are working harder to find ways to predict what he will pitch over other hurlers because Strasburg's stuff is just so hard to touch. You will hear a lot of hitters say that 99% of the time, if given the option, they dont want to know what pitch is coming. Stephen Strasburg's stuff makes him the 1% exception.
- Strasburg walked three of his last four batters, and then struck out his last batter to end the sixth inning. He had thrown a lot of pitches and wasn't locating anything but his fastball.
- The end of the Pirates series means that Washington won't have to pitch to Andrew McCutchen for another six days. McCutchen absolutely destroyed the Nationals this week. The Pirates' outfielder was 6-9 at the plate, and reached base in 9-12 plate appearances.