Strasburg shuts out Phillies in masterpiece

Strasburg shuts out Phillies in masterpiece
August 11, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Davey says Strasburg "amped up" in victory

Stephen Strasburg took the mound on Sunday evening looking to shake off a rocky bullpen session where he didn’t feel he had his best stuff. His catcher, Wilson Ramos, even agreed, calling it a “struggle.”

In the second inning he tweaked his groin and saw trainer Lee Kuntz and pitching coach Steve McCatty meet him at the mound. After seeing Strasburg stumble off the rubber and wince, Ramos thought he would soon leave the game.

And in the fifth inning Strasburg took a 87 mile per hour fastball off his right forearm on a bunt attempt. He stepped out of the batter’s box shaking his wrist to relieve the pain.

But somehow through a variety of obstacles, Strasburg emerged on Sunday with the first complete game of his career and a 6-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies. He struck out ten with just one walk in a true masterpiece, his best outing yet in four MLB seasons. In the ninth and with the shutout near, the crowd of 32,355 gave him a standing ovation and chants of  ‘let’s go Strasburg,’ bringing back memories of his historic professional debut.

While the fastball off his arm may have just plain hurt, the sore groin and bad warmup session might have been blessings in disguise. Not having his best stuff, for instance, helped Strasburg get locked in. He needed only eight pitches in the first inning and all were strikes.

“Honestly I didn’t feel good at all,” he said. “I didn’t have good command in the bullpen, and I think when that happened in the past, I would just try and jam it down their throat and throw it as hard as I can. I kinda learned that that didn’t really get much accomplished. So I think it just helped me take a step back and really focus on being nice and easy and hitting my spots.”

McCatty was impressed Strasburg could do this despite being banged up.

“I know that he had a little bit of a sore groin, but he went out there and battled, that’s what I think is really neat too,” he said. “He didn’t want to come out. We talked a little bit and he went out there and competed, even with a little pain that he was in.”

The groin injury, Strasburg said, helped him keep his delivery on line. Strasburg has been working on not having his left leg fly open when he steps towards the mound.

“It was something where number one I had to tell myself not to think about it, and then number two, when I did feel it, it was because I was flying open,” he said.

“That just helped me kind of take a step back, like I said, and just go nice and easy and stay on line as long as I can.”

As Strasburg’s pitching coach, McCatty has been working on closing his delivery, he just didn’t think an injury would do the trick.

“I thought about that when he was saying that. ‘I’ve been telling you all year to quit doing that, you gotta get a cramp to stop you.’ I didn’t want to say it’s a blessing in disguise, but it just got him back on track. He knows it’s what he has to do and he did it.”

Strasburg was efficient throughout the win, needing just 99 pitches to go the distance. His most dominant stretch came after he walked Dominic Brown to begin the second inning. Strasburg responded by retiring 15 of the next 16 batters he faced.

That efficiency, and keeping his pitch count low throughout, was the key according to Jayson Werth.

“I looked up there, it might have been the sixth, and saw a low pitch count,” he said. “Too often, him and Gio, you look up there and going into the fourth inning and they’ve got 60-some pitches and you gotta get them through the fifth inning to get them to the sixth. I saw that and knew he had a chance to get deep into the game.”

Working in Strasburg’s favor was some early offense by his teammates, six runs through the first five innings. Werth singled in a run in the first, one of his three hits on the day. The Nats would then add five more runs on seven singles and two walks across the fourth and fifth innings. It was a complete performance for the Nationals who won all three weekend games against the Phillies for their first series sweep since their July 5-7 series against the Padres.

When the Nationals drafted Strasburg in 2009, they envisioned he would some day pitch like this on a regular basis. He now has a 2.83 ERA on the season and 1.04 WHIP, numbers that show he’s improving as the season moves on.

Werth sees this as a big step towards the dominant ace Strasburg can be.

“You play long enough you see these guys who are top-end pitchers who are some of the best in the game and that’s what they do,” he said.

“They pitch deep into games, seven, eight, nine innings. They control the game. I think as Stras gets older he’ll learn to do that a little bit more.”

Any way you spin it, this was a big night for Strasburg. He showed he can shut down an opponent efficiently and thoroughly, giving his team a prime chance to win.

But when asked if he can recreate this performance, now that he has one under his belt and knows how do it, Strasburg wasn’t quite as impressed.

“I’m not gonna answer that. That’s how expectations work – you do something and you don’t even have time to enjoy it. It’s always on to the next one. So I’m going to enjoy tonight and I’m going to go out there and do what I do every start all season next time.”