Stephen Strasburg’s 2011 season began seven months ago, a few hours’ drive away from Sun Life Stadium in Viera, Fla., when his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery prevented him from tossing a ball more than 45 feet.
On the final day of the Washington Nationals’ season, Strasburg at once announced his full return and set the stage for headlining the Nationals’ pitching staff in 2012.
Strasburg allowed one hit in six shutout innings and struck out 10 Florida Marlins, his highest total since his magical major league debut in June 2010. His full recovery had already been one of the most pleasant stories of this Nationals’ season. He provided an exclamation point and proof that he can still operate with the full might of his immense talent.
Strasburg retired the final 13 batters he faced and struck out eight of those. At one point, Strasburg struck out eight in a span of nine hitters, reaching 99 miles per hour with his fastball. Only a flared single to shallow left field by Gaby Sanchez with two outs in the second inning prevented Strasburg from a chance at a no-hitter.
The Marlins drew two walks in the second, too, the first free passes Strasburg had issued in the majors after Tommy John surgery. Back to last season, Strasburg had gone 117 batters without walking any of them.
That was a minor, unnoticeable blemish. Strasburg threw 75 pitches, and the Marlins swung and missed at 15 of them. He struck out seven of the eight Marlins position players, and he got strikeouts with all three of his pitchers. Batters swung late at fastballs, whiffed at changeups in the dirt and buckled and watched curves glide over the plate.
In five starts this season, Strasburg posted a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings, striking out 24 and walking only two. He has adopted a new approach of trying to induce weak contact, trying to pitch with precision rather than power. It didn’t quite work this afternoon. It was still something to behold.