“All you need is that little break,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “We’ve been waiting for that.”
The Nationals scored five runs in the seventh as they batted around for the first time all year, ensuring they would not squander one of the most dominating days of Strasburg’s career. He struck out nine, walked none and allowed five hits in eight innings. The only run he allowed scored on the first balk of his career, in the eighth inning when the Nationals were leading by five runs, anyway. For good measure, Strasburg added a double and a single in three at-bats.
“It’s all about getting a rhythm, getting comfortable,” Strasburg said. “When I get comfortable out there and I’m feeling my mechanics pretty well, I just let it eat. . . . Just commanding my pitches. Sometimes, you’re going to get in a groove to where you can hit the glove wherever it is.”
After Hamels’s single in the third, Strasburg took apart the Phillies. He retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced. The hitter who reached, Freddy Galvis, was also the only batter in the stretch to hit a ball out of the infield. He flared a single to center field, and two pitches later, Michael Young rolled into a 4-6-3 double play. In his last three starts, Strasburg has allowed three earned runs in 23 innings.
“He just went after guys,” second baseman Steve Lombardozzi said. “He was working quick. It was fun to play behind him. He was attacking hitters.”
Strasburg operated at full capacity. He turned his focus in recent starts to the command of his fastball. With improved control and more first-pitch strikes, Strasburg enabled himself to tap into his complete arsenal. He froze hitters with 97-mph fastballs on the black, fooled them with a boomerang curveball and overwhelmed them with his high-80s change-up, which dived like a busted toy plane.
When he took the mound 15 days earlier in San Diego, Strasburg had never thrown a pitch in the eighth inning. Now, he has twice completed eight innings in three starts.
“This is probably the best we’ve seen him, the last two starts, since he’s been here in the big leagues,” Desmond said. “He’s starting to figure it out on another level.”