Where’s the rust or the lost command? Who returns to the big leagues after 382 days away for elbow surgery with more precision and better efficiency than when he left? Who fans one Dodger on a 99 mph fastball, barely allows an audibly struck ball in five innings, but has the touch and finesse to fan both Matt Kemp and Andre Eithier on 90 mph change-ups?
- Thomas Boswell
Stephen Strasburg’s star shines as brightly as ever
Now that the Lexington Legends and the Hickory Crawdads are behind him, Strasburg apparently knows exactly what to do with lesser rivals like Los Angeles. The Dodgers managed to hit only one ball loudly — a line-drive out directly to the rightfielder — as Strasburg left with a 3-0 lead after five innings. His maximum was supposed to be four innings, but he made the Bums look so bad he earned a fifth frame and still needed only 56 pitches.
Too bad for the Nats, he had to leave. They stunk subsequently and lost, 7-3.
“Totally relaxed, totally in control, strong at the end, he was special,” said Manager Davey Johnson after Strasburg’s first pitch was 96 mph, his last 97. “Shoot, he just made it look easy . . . Fun watching, like he hadn’t been out. A couple of times, he let it loose on strikeouts, but it was just 96 on the knees and corners all night and that change-up is almost unhittable.”
Strasburg faced 17 Dodgers, retired 15, struck out four (all swinging) and permitted only two hits, one of them a grounder to shortstop than should have been fielded. This wasn’t June 8, 2010 for theatrics, not by many miles, not with a small crowd; perhaps 10,000 of the 29,092 who bought tickets stayed home after an all-day rain, lending a small-buzz atmosphere to a night of big importance to the Nationals’ future.
But for efficiency and progress as a polished pitcher, evidence dripped from every aspect of this performance that Strasburg, the perfectionist, has used his year in rehab exile to fine-tune flaws perhaps only visible to him.
“Seize the day,” said Strasburg, summarizing his approach to “every day” of the last year. “The last year, I didn’t waste a minute waiting for this game. I was always working on something . . . I’m really trying to be a pitcher out there, not just light up the radar gun every time.”
Effortless, precise, in command of his fastball and changeup, though not yet his curve consistently, Strasburg produced only the second scoreless start of his career; his average of 11.2 pitches an inning was his best ever.
“Guys don’t want to get to two strikes against me, so if you make quality pitches early in the count, you can get quick outs,” said Strasburg, who introduced himself to 82 percent of Dodger hitters with a strike. “I think my command of my fastball is better than it was before,” he said, “because I don’t try to dial it up every time.”
If all this sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same theory of better efficiency that made Jordan Zimmermann so much better this season.