The late-awakening Nationals’ offense prevented Stephen Strasburg from picking up his second win of the year, but in the Nationals’ 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon he pitched well enough to earn it. He solved his first-inning struggles, dazzled an excellent, contact-heavy Cardinals lineup and made just two glaring miscues.
Strasburg has absorbed a lot of criticism this season, but perhaps that will abate, at least for the next five days. He allowed two runs in six innings on five hits, walking one and striking out nine.
Strasburg did not throw a single slider, the pitch he added to his arsenal this year. “I felt good with my other stuff today,” he said, bluntly, as an explanation. Strasburg’s breaking pitches, even without the slider, were diabolical.
He relied on a change-up that darted inside to right-handed hitters, who swung at some that nearly hit their back foot, and broke away from lefties. He made hitters chase curveballs in the dirt. The location of his fastball, which doomed him in his last start, improved. The Cardinals had made contact on 83.6 percent of their swings this season, tops in the National League. Strasburg induced 16 swinging strikes from them in six innings Sunday.
Strasburg also figured out his first-inning woes. “Just executed pitches better,” he said. He needed just 14 of them, 12 of which were strikes, to blaze through a 1-2-3 first inning that included a pair of strikeouts. In four previous opening frames this year, Strasburg had yielded six runs on nine hits, including two homers.
The Cardinals struck in the second against Strasburg. First baseman Matt Adams led off the inning with a double and he moved to third when Yadier Molina poked a single to right. Strasburg minimized further damage with a 6-4-3 double play ball, but Adams scooted home.
Strasburg was operating at the height of his powers as Peter Bourjos, St. Louis’s light-hitting No. 8 hitter, came to the plate in the fifth inning. Strasburg had struck out four consecutive hitters and retired nine in a row overall but walked Bourjos with a 3-2 change-up, which brought pitcher Shelby Miller to the plate. Strasburg fired a 92-mph fastball over the heart of the plate, which Miller treated like batting practice. He whacked a double to left-center to give the Cardinals their second run.
The sequence – walking the No. 8 hitter and allowing an RBI to the pitcher – could be picked apart. And, since it’s Strasburg, it probably will be. But his six innings helped the Nationals win, even if his win column didn’t change.