In Sunday’s series-closing game, teammates noticed that he was angrier, more focused and “had a little fire today,” as first baseman Adam LaRoche put it.
“He acted like he had something to prove today,” outfielder Jayson Werth added. “He pitched really good. I like that Strasburg.”
The Nationals claimed the series from the Marlins, winning three of four and maintaining their three-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They set a new high-water mark for the season, and for any Nationals team since baseball moved back to Washington, moving to 22 games over .500 at 65-43. They took advantage of a bottom-dweller in the division and moved on to potentially do the same against the Houston Astros.
They do so with their top starter, Strasburg, back on the right track, and with their hottest hitter, LaRoche, continuing his torrid pace. The Nationals scored all their runs in the second inning on two-run singles by Strasburg and LaRoche.
Strasburg pumped fastball after fastball at Miami’s hitters, using it to set up his curveball and his punishing change-up. He challenged hitters to catch up to it, hitting 97 mph even in his final innings. He made it dance all over the strike zone. He struck out six batters, including two on his change-up and two on his curveball after setting them up with fastballs.
Strasburg extended his scoreless streak against the Marlins to 21 innings. Only four runners reached base.
Strasburg said he was pleased by the performance after giving up six runs in four innings last week against the Phillies, but he played it down as a moral victory. “I need to prove something every single day,” he said.
This wasn’t the first time Strasburg followed up a sub-par outing with a strong start this season. Over the past month, he has mostly alternated between the two, unable to win consecutive starts since June 20. When he loses command and the feel of his pitches, he tries to overcompensate. When he gives up a hit, he can hurt himself by trying to make a perfect pitch.
Manager Davey Johnson said it sometimes takes talented pitchers as long as three years to master the art of pitching in the major leagues. “He’s just learning about himself and learning about the league,” Johnson said. “It’s just a process they go through.”