Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/25/14

Stephen Strasburg the number one Major League Baseball pick by the Washington Nationals delivers a pitch in his first start in the Arizona Fall League at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Phoenix, AZ, October 16,2009. (UPI/Art Foxall) Photo via Newscom

Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg did his job Monday night against the Astros, notching the win and a quality start. He threw six innings and held Houston to two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out five. It was a solid outing and any pitcher across the league would take it, but this was Stephen Strasburg pitching at home against one of the league’s lesser squads. The no-hitter watch was started as soon as Jordan Schafer stepped up to lead it off for the Astros. Given the circumstances, Strasburg’s performance looks surprisingly human.

Through five innings, Strasburg was absolutely cruising. The Astros were scoreless with just three baserunners against the Nationals’ phenom, and Strasburg needed just 61 pitches to dispatch the first 15 outs. Strasburg didn’t fall behind a single batter in the third, fourth or fifth innings and looked to be on track for an easy seven inning start.

But then things got dicey in the sixth inning, as the Astros mustered two runs on three hits and a walk with the top of their order. Specifically, Strasburg struggled to get ahead of hitters and was forced to serve up fastballs in the zone as the inning progressed. As good as his fastball is, Major League hitters will hit any straight offering if it is presented enough, and that’s what happened in the sixth inning. Strasburg threw 13 pitches from behind in the count after throwing just 11 in the first five innings.

Strasburg opened the sixth inning by falling behind both Jordan Schafer and Jed Lowrie. He then threw fastballs in the zone, and with each hitter able to sit fastball without concerns of falling behind should Strasburg spot a breaking pitch for a strike, they pulled both for singles:

Could each of these pitches been hit had Strasburg been ahead in the count? Of course — both caught plenty of plate. But 95+ MPH fastballs are difficult to hit no matter where they’re spotted if hitters have to be aware of other pitches as well. Ahead in the count, Schafer was quick enough to be ahead of an outer-half fastball from Strasburg and Lowrie was able to pull a ball past Adam LaRoche at first base. Hitters generally don’t get out in front of his fastball in a pitchers count, and we saw that in the at-bat that eventually plated both Astros runs of the inning.

Strasburg did not fall behind Chris Johnson, the Astros’ sixth hitter of the inning, batting with the bases loaded and two outs. Instead, he was quickly up 1-2 on the Astros’ third baseman, a career .276/.309/.416 hitter. Strasburg pounded the over matched Johnson with fastballs. Early in the count, Johnson had managed contact with the curveball, with a relatively hard foul ball to the pull side. When Strasburg threw the fastball, he was well behind it. And so he threw Johnson the fastball three straight times with a 1-2 count:

Click to embiggen

Indeed, Johnson remained behind on the first two offerings, but he managed to square up on the third for a line drive single to right-center field, plating Schafer and Lowrie and tying the game at two. F.P. Santangelo suggested the following just before the at-bat’s final pitch:

The more fastballs you see as a hitter, the longer you stand in there, the better shot you have of timing one up.

It was a prophetic statement from the former utility man, a .245/.364/.351 hitter who was likely overmatched in many situation as Johnson was here. Perhaps Strasburg didn’t trust his ability to locate his offspeed stuff — eight of his 13 changeups and curveballs were balls in the sixth inning.

Strasburg’s brief loss of his usually sharp control in the sixth shows how even somebody with his fastball can be touched up by any quality of major league hitter when his ability to locate departs him. Still, part of what makes Strasburg such an effective pitcher is that his margin of error is much larger than the typical starter. Even though he was forced to pound the zone with fastballs, Houston’s hitters made good contact but didn’t manage much power. Not a single one of the Astros’ hits made it beyond the Nationals’ outfielders.

As such, even in what was a slightly disappointing outing for the Nationals’ present and future ace, he gave his team more than enough to win the game. He still enjoys an utterly absurd 2.35 ERA and 1.86 FIP in his first 111 innings and is just 23 years old. Stephen Strasburg’s beatable is still better than what much of the league has to offer on the normal day, and he remains one of the best and brightest young arms in the game.


MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Bears to bench Jay Cutler, start Jimmy Clausen

Jim Harbaugh to Michigan speculation building

Heat lose a key player with McRoberts out for rest of season

Belichick: Ryan is 'buttering me up' with Hall of Fame praise

Marshall: Bears need to gel and do some kumbaya

Ray McDonald investigated for possible sexual assault

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Red Sox appear content with rotation despite lack of true ace

Iguodala gets technical for mocking Conley travel

Bo Pelini takes shot at Nebraska during introductory presser

Belichick: Patriots need to play better against the Jets

Rex Ryan doesn't want to get in trouble talking about Revis

Bears Conte willing to shorten lifespan for NFL career

Brad Halsey claimed he was on cocaine for Bonds record HR

Wade Miley confident in health, diet after trade from D-Backs

When bowl results mean more for one school than another

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson lead in 2014 athlete Google searches

Molding the market: All eyes on Max Scherzer

Another "Fire John Idzik' plane flies at Jets practice

Four can't-miss match-ups in NFL's Week 16

Report: Some Browns shunned Manziel during pregame

Making an attempt to understand Celtics' priorities

Gronk makes awkward sausage joke on 'Top Chef'

Walmart ripped for confusing Anthony/Lin doll

RG3 taking sabbatical from social media for rest of season

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

When bowl results mean more for one school than another

Four can't-miss match-ups in NFL's Week 16

RG3 quits social media for season

Each NFL division’s MVP

5 NFLers who must step up in Week 16

Most impressive college hoops teams

Five reasons why FSU is going to win the CFB Playoff

Boxer admits to dive in Rourke bout

FCC heard about Brady's swearing?

Embracing the hate of the Eagles-Cowboys Rivalry

DeSean Jackson mocks Eagles

Andrew Hawkins defends shirt

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.