Nats' 1 2 = lots of strike 3s

Nats' 1 2 = lots of strike 3s
May 17, 2012, 2:43 pm
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The mostly uninspiring history of the Nationals is littered with pitchers whose mission was simple: Keep the ball down in the zone, induce groundballs and pray their defense could finish the job.

It was called "pitching to contact," and while the theory behind it was sound, it was in some ways an indictment of the "stuff" these guys were taking to the mound with them. Hey, if your fastball barely cracks the 90-mph mark, you're probably not going to be producing many swings and misses.

Now consider this year's staff, loaded with power arms. Suddenly, the idea of pitching to contact seems passe. Sure, groundballs are nice. But strikeouts are even nicer.

Especially when you can boast the top two strikeout pitchers in the National League.

Yep, take a look at the current NL pitching leaderboard. Topping the list: Gio Gonzalez with 60 strikeouts. Right behind him: Stephen Strasburg with 59.

"What it is, is just we continue to go out there and try and pound the strike zone," Gonzalez said after whiffing 10 Pirates in seven innings last night. "As a starting rotation, we want to strive to continue to get better, and hopefully we see some changes keep coming. Staying healthy is our main concern. Other than that ... hey, it's good in other ways, but all I cared about was getting the win today."

Gonzalez's primary goal might have been securing his fifth win of the season (which he did) but the byproduct of that was his continued ascension into the upper echelon of big-league pitchers.

The left-hander briefly led the majors in strikeouts until Seattle's Felix Hernandez recorded three more during his start last night against Cleveland. But Gonzalez still leads the majors with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, just ahead of Strasburg at 10.5.

"When you miss bats, it keeps the pressure off your defense," manager Davey Johnson said. "If you miss a lot of bats, that tells me that there's a lot of other ones that aren't centering on it. All five of them. They've been great."

Indeed, it's not only Gonzalez and Strasburg recording all these Ks. Every member of the Nationals' rotation is striking out at least 6.2 batters per nine innings. Over their seven-year history, the Nats have only seen five starting pitchers produce a strikeout rate that high: John Patterson (8.39 in 2005), Esteban Loaiza (7.18 in 2005), Jordan Zimmermann (6.92 in 2011), Odalis Perez (6.71 in 2008) and Jason Bergmann (6.71 in 2007).

From that group, only Patterson finished his season ranked in the top 10 in strikeouts in the National League. Seven years later, the Nats have the No. 1 and No. 2 strikeout artists in the league.

All the guys behind those pitchers can do is sit back and enjoy the show.

"It's fun to watch them go out and execute the gameplan that I hear them setting up prior to the game," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We have five aces, in my opinion. And it's fun to watch aces work."