Stephen Strasburg dominates, Adam Dunn homers twice as Washington Nationals beat San Francisco Giants
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Stephen Strasburg turned and watched as the ball, only the fifth pitch he threw Friday night, smacked off the facade of the Nationals Park upper deck. As Andrés Torres circled the bases, Strasburg stood on the mound and resolved to do something he had mulled strongly enough that, earlier in the week, he placed a call to his college pitching coach to talk about it.
"If they're going to beat me," Strasburg thought, "they're going to beat me on me calling my own game."
Strasburg, he would later say, "wanted to go back to what defines me as a pitcher." In an 8-1 Washington Nationals victory over the San Francisco Giants, Strasburg took control of his start, and command of the game followed. As the Nationals' offense finally met Strasburg halfway, Strasburg notched his first win since June 13, also the last day the Nationals scored more than seven runs.
After Strasburg allowed Torres's homer on his fifth pitch of the game -- a 97-mph fastball -- he retired 18 of the next 21 batters he faced, striking out eight of them. Throwing to Wil Nieves, and not Iván Rodríguez, for the first time, Strasburg allowed three hits and one walk in six innings, lowering his ERA to 2.32.
Nothing had seemed amiss with Strasburg before Friday, but he decided he needed to recapture an old approach. Though Strasburg didn't call his own games in college, he grew accustomed to how he pitched. As a pro, he's learning as games go and thinking about pitch sequences. "Now I'm starting to figure things out," Strasburg said.
This week, he talked to both Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty and Rusty Filter, his pitching coach at San Diego State, about throwing what and how he wanted to throw. While he did not reveal exactly what that is -- "I'm going to keep that to myself," he said -- Strasburg asserted control Friday and does not plan to give it back.
"I know how I want to attack guys in my head," Strasburg said. "I'm going to do that from now on.
"I was just putting it all on my shoulders. I have to do that from now on. You've got to go out there and you've got to have a game plan. You can't worry about not executing your pitches because you're a little unsure if that's the right one to throw."
On other nights Strasburg pitched, one run may have been enough to beat Washington. The Nationals had provided Strasburg one run of support in his last 25 innings on the mound. Friday, they scored that many in the first and fourth before he exited.
Adam Dunn led the charge with two home runs, shooting his season total to a National League-leading 22. He has five home runs in his previous three games, but he suggests nothing has changed. "I'm still striking out, right?" Dunn said. "I just think I've hit a lot of mistakes, actually."
Strasburg also received support from a motley bottom half of the order. With Rodríguez and Josh Willingham getting the night off, Cristian Guzmán, Willie Harris, Adam Kennedy and Wil Nieves batted in spots five through eight and went 6 for 12 with three walks, three RBI and a double. Nieves provided the biggest hit, a two-RBI bloop single in the sixth.
The Nationals scored their first run on a bizarre play. With one out in the first, Roger Bernadina scalded a double to the right-center field gap. With Bernadina on second, Giants starter Matt Cain turned and spiked a pickoff throw, the ball slipping from his hand and rolling into left field. Bernadina bolted to third and, as third base coach Pat Listach windmilled his arm, never slowed around the base. Pat Burrell fired home, too late to catch Bernadina's slide.
Strasburg had the only run he needed. The Nationals piled on from there. Strasburg forced some of the most helpless swings that can be seen on a major league field. In the third, he threw Edgar Renteria three consecutive curveballs. On the second, Renteria jumped out of the batter's box as a strike was called. On the third, he threw his bat toward shortstop. Strike three.
His curveball became more effective last night because, at his own behest, he threw more inside fastballs. Strasburg had noticed hitters diving across the plate to catch up to his outside heaters. When he throws one of his 99-mph two-seamers inside, "it seems like 140," Nieves said.
"The past two games, they've been sitting on fastballs away," Strasburg said. "If they're going to continue to do that, they better get ready to back off the plate. And they better get ready for some stuff up there to keep them off balance."
They better get ready. Because Strasburg, from now on, is going to make teams beat him doing what he wants to do.