He did, and mowed down Atlanta in a 4-1 win, using a dazzling array of pitches to notch 10 strikeouts and make the Braves look foolish. Fans, nearly deprived of his mastery, watched as he tore through a division rival’s lineup with a fastball pinpointed to the last inch, and a change-up and curveball that produced head-scratching laughter. How was anyone with a wooden bat in hand expected to challenge that?
“He was just painting, had everything working,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “It was fun to watch. Change-up, curveball, fastball, you name it, they were all devastating. One of the more impressive things I’ve seen out of him, especially coming out of that rain delay.”
With only a handful of starts left in an as-yet-announced innings limit, it is as if Strasburg (15-5) is saving his best for the end. He has won his past four starts. He has allowed only four runs over the past 24 innings, good for a 1.50 ERA. He has given up only 12 hits, 10 walks and struck out 29 batters. It has been his most dominating stretch since the start of the season.
His prowess has propelled the Nationals (77-46) to a seven-game lead over Atlanta in the National League East. The Nationals continued their status as the best team in the sport. With each game, they reach new heights, ones unseen in Washington in nearly 80 years.
“I take nothing for granted,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “[An] eight-[game lead] would be better. “
Strasburg climbed the mound just after 7 p.m. for his 25th start of the season, his first full one in a career interrupted by his elbow injury. He command was sharp from the start, allowing two singles over the first two innings, and striking out three batters. Then came the rain.
It fell lightly at first, then turned to a torrent. By the third inning, Strasburg hurled the ball to batters through the water. He struck out Braves starter Paul Maholm swinging on four pitches and induced a flyout to left field from Michael Bourn. But the elements were too much, lightning flashed across the sky, and the players retreated to their dugouts.
A long rain delay would spell doom for Strasburg. Sitting around and then warming back up could mean too much stress for his arm and elbow. Johnson wanted to use Strasburg as long as he needed to against the Braves, maybe even past 100 pitches, especially given the 13-inning game the previous night that took a toll on his bullpen. But the rain was poised to short-circuit that plan.