He regrouped and mowed down Buck with consecutive called strikes and a curveball for a swinging strike. This was the kind of moment, a small bounce-back, that Strasburg understands he needs to repeat more often. When pitching to contact, a hit may happen, and it’s about learning to look past it.
“I’m still learning how to pitch and call a game and really pick up on little things that happen in the game that you can really use to your advantage,” he said. “Today was a big step forward for me in that process. But there’s still a long way to go.”
While fans have come to expect brilliance from Strasburg when he is on the mound, he also is becoming a growing attraction at the plate. With Werth and Danny Espinosa on base in the second inning, Strasburg smacked a curveball from Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco into right field, scoring two runs.
One of the game’s most exciting pitchers is also the best-hitting pitcher in the majors. Strasburg is hitting .343 (12 for 35) with seven RBI, more than some bench players who have dozens more at-bats.
Johnson said a player suggested that Strasburg be used a pinch hitter when he is shut down later this season because of a yet-to-be-determined innings limit tied to his recovery from elbow surgery. But Johnson, as he has before, laughed it off: “Highly unlikely,” he said.
Strasburg said he couldn’t explain his hitting success. Asked if he could pinch-hit, he brushed off the idea but marveled at his growth as a hitter. “They’re starting to pitch me more like a hitter, which, I mean, is kinda cool because they respect me more at the plate,” he said.
The offense chugged along with Strasburg and LaRoche. Rookie Bryce Harper, mired in his longest slump, went 2 for 4, but slammed down his bat after a fourth-inning strikeout, splitting it in half and drawing a gasp from the crowd.
LaRoche added to the Marlins’ misery in the second. He smacked a single up the middle to drive in two runs and give the Nationals a 4-0 lead. In this four-game series, LaRoche drove in seven runs. He has carried the offense through its injuries and slumps, re-establishing himself as one of the league’s best power-hitting first basemen.
He missed 118 games last season because of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. This season, LaRoche is leading the team with 23 home runs and 71 RBI.
Drew Storen pitched a scoreless ninth to notch his first save of the season, and the Nationals and Strasburg picked up another win.
“It’s good to see him back on the mound with that fire again and blowing people away,” LaRoche said. “That’s what he can do and as long as he believes in it, he can keep doing it.”