Stephen Strasburg delivers strong outing with improved tempo

brushback_harperLong before the Nationals’ 11th-inning implosion Monday and silence from their bats in extra innings, Stephen Strasburg delivered seven strong innings against the potent Orioles lineup. His fastball command was good and his change-up was filthy. His lone mistake was serving up a two-run shot to baseball’s home run leader. No shame in that.

Strasburg fired seven innings, struck out nine, walked none and allowed only two runs. When Manager Matt Williams used a pinch hitter for him in the bottom of the seventh inning, his pitch count at 104, the Nationals and Orioles were tied at 2. He gave the Nationals a chance to win.

But what stood out to Williams was Strasburg’s tempo on the mound. He worked quickly, instead of the dragging in hot weather in his previous start, and it helped. “Just trying not to analyze every pitch as much and just get into the flow of the game,” Strasburg said.

“It just allows him to feel his pitches more,” Williams added. “Last time, it was really hot, he was really trying to feel the baseball. [Monday], it wasn’t so bad, so he was able to get it, didn’t have to worry about sweating, going to the rosin bag so much. All the stuff we talked about last time. I think his tempo and working fast and being in the strike zone was really good.”

Strasburg kept the capable Orioles offense off the scoreboard until the fourth inning. His change-up was perhaps the best it had been in a few starts and his fastball command was better. After a Manny Machado single to lead off the frame, Strasburg faced Nelson Cruz with one out. His second pitch to Cruz, a 95 mph fastball, stayed over the plate and Cruz sliced it the other way, a line drive home run to right-center field to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.

“He’s having a great year,” Strasburg said. “I just need to do a better job of being smart with the location and not necessarily getting into the whole ‘Challenge, challenge, challenge.’ I feel like when I pitched him differently it seemed to work out a little bit better in my favor.”

Strasburg, who has a dominant fastball, has struggled with his fastball command this season. Entering Monday’s game, opponents were hitting .333 against his four-seam fastball and .364 against his sinker, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Those numbers are a sobering reminder of his mechanical issues this season and how often he has left those fastballs over the plate.

Cruz grounded out in his next at-bat when Strasburg fired a fastball in. After Cruz’s home run, Strasburg locked in and struck out the next four batters. He gave the Nationals a few more innings and kept the Orioles down, enough for his team to get back into the contest with Anthony Rendon’s sixth-inning game-tying home run.

“I just wanted to go out there and build off the last start and focus on executing pitches,” Strasburg said.

FROM THE POST

Nationals allow six runs in the 11th to drop series opener to the Orioles, writes Adam Kilgore.

Class AA Harrisburg hitting coach Mark Harris leans on baseball after the death of his wife.

A Nationals roster at full strength means fewer at-bats for veteran bench players, writes Isabelle Khurshudyan.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Jayson Werth ditches slump, wins National League player of the week award

Rafael Soriano says he won’t go to the All-Star Game even as a replacement

Denard Span is a doubles machine

How Rafael Soriano and Anthony Rendon missed the all-star cut

Bryce Harper still shaking off rust

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 5, Gwinnett 3: Josh Roenicke allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits over six innings. Matt Grace, Rafael Martin and Xavier Cedeno combined for four scoreless innings. The Chiefs scored five runs, two earned, against former Nationals pitcher Yunesky Maya. Steven Souza Jr. went 3 for 4  with two RBI. Emmanuel Burriss added two hits. Pinch-hitter John Johnson drove in two runs.

Harrisburg 5, Bowie 1: John Simms allowed one run on four hits over six innings. Derek Self and Tyler Herron combined for three scoreless. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 3 with a three-run homer. Jason Martinson went 3 for 5, while Kevin Keyes and Rick Hague each added two hits.

Wilmington 5, Potomac 1: Ian Dickson gave up three runs over six innings and Kylin Turnbull allowed another two, only one earned. Shawn Pleffner went 2 for 4. Justin Miller drove in the lone Nationals’ run.

Hagerstown 8, Lakewood 4: Lucas Giolito allowed four runs, three earned, on seven hits, walked three and struck out six over four innings. Andrew Cooper earned the win with three scoreless frames. Justin Thomas added two scoreless innings. Cody Dent went 2 for 3 with a homer. Drew Ward drove in three runs. Spencer Kieboom collected three hits. Isaac Ballou had two RBI.

State College 3, Auburn 2: Matthew Derosier coughed up three runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. David Ramos, Wilson’s younger brother, fired 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Tyler Mapes added two spotless frames. Chris Riopedre drove in two runs.

Also on Nationals Journal

Jayson Werth ditches slump, wins National League player of the week award