After Tyler Clippard wiggled out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the ninth inning, Manager Davey Johnson walked into the small weight room in the visitors’ clubhouse where Strasburg was working out. Johnson congratulated Strasburg on the performance, an uncommon move for him.
Strasburg has surely had more dominant outings, but Johnson raved about how Strasburg relied on his fastball. He threw 70 of them in 105 pitches. He let his arsenal revolve around the fastball rather than trying to trick batters. He got back to the things that make him successful.
“I have to say, that was one of the more impressive games that Stras has pitched,” Johnson said. “I thought he used his fastball better. I thought his location was a little better. That’s the kind of Strasburg that I know and love.”
Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins’ volatile manager, provided an odd sideshow when he screamed obscenities at Bryce Harper after a spat about the amount of pine tar on Harper’s bat. Harper got the last laugh, squeezing the final out of the game in foul territory after a collision with Steve Lombardozzi. (Both players walked away no worse for the wear.)
For the first time since April 19, the Nationals played without shortstop Ian Desmond, who sat with a left oblique strain. They leaned on their pitching. In the first three games after the all-star break, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Strasburg have combined to allow two runs in 18 innings while striking out 22 batters.
Before Sunday, pitching coach Steve McCatty had drilled into Strasburg the importance of establishing his fastball and throwing it more in unpredictable counts. Of Strasburg’s seven strikeouts, three came when batters took a fastball for strike three, frozen by the speed and precise location.
“The thing about Stephen is, his off-speed is so good that it’s easy to fall back on that,” McCatty said. “But his fastball still is an outstanding pitch. So we just talked about it. We’ve been talking about it and talking about it and talking about it — get back to using it.”
Strasburg peppered the zone, throwing 70 strikes, and kept his fastball mostly in the 95-96-mph range. Strasburg had only two 1-2-3 innings, his first and his last. He ended his outing with a 96-mph fastball for a called third strike to John Buck.