When Stephen Strasburg showed up to spring training in 2013, he had grand goals for the first unrestricted season of his professional career, and one was throwing more than 200 innings. He had never reached that milestone before. After Tommy John surgery and then his shutdown in 2012, he yearned to take the mound every five days and to be a workhorse pitcher that helped carry the starting rotation.

Bone chips slowed Strasburg late last season and eventually required offseason surgery to remove. But on Monday, against a team that has notoriously given him trouble, Strasburg had the chance to finally reach his goal.

Strasburg fired seven scoreless innings against the Braves in Atlanta, an important start for the Nationals and Strasburg. In his career-high 32nd start, he surpassed 200 innings.

“It feels great,” he said after the 4-2 win. “I’m just glad that the routine that I’ve been working on, especially in between starts and the lifting program that I’ve been doing, is putting me in a good position to make every start.”

“It’s important for him that he can be the horse, he can be the guy that throws 200-plus,” added Manager Matt Williams. “His arm has felt really good all year and he’ll continue to go out there and pitch. It’s important for him given the surgery and everything else to come back and to do that. It’s a big milestone for him. We’re happy for him. And on the night he got over 200, he really pitched well.”

As he prepared for what he hoped would be the longest season of his career, Strasburg adjust his routine. He dialed back bullpen sessions by design, hoping to save his energy and arm for games. He limited throwing between starts. He followed a workout regimen that focused on stamina.

Strasburg did this all with the idea of pitching into September and beyond in mind. Because of the 2012 shutdown, he missed out on pitching late in the season during a pennant race and in the playoffs. Now he’s ready.

“I’m definitely feeling pretty good right now, minus waking up with a little neck stiffness [on Monday],” Strasburg said. “I think my arm feels good.”

His velocity is further proof of his sentiment. Early in the season, Strasburg’s fastball averaged around 94 mph per start. But over the past two months or so, it has averaged 95 mph or a tick higher. He even touched 98 mph on Monday against the Braves, and located his fastball well.

“I think it’s just more so of getting further out of offseason surgery and the ball feels like it’s coming out a lot cleaner,” he said. “And I’m not having to feel for it as much and just letting it go.”

So much expectation is heaped on Strasburg and, although he has had rough patches this season, he has enjoyed a strong season. His season ERA is down to 3.34. Over his past four starts, he has posted a 1.69 ERA over 26 2/3 innings with 28 strikeouts and zero walks. Although his fastball command and the Braves have caused him problems in the past, he found a way to improve on both.

“We’ve been seeing it for years: He gets better every time he goes out there,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “He learns a little bit about himself every time he goes out. It’s a pleasure to watch, just like the young guys on the team.”




2 (Nationals can clinch with one more win in Atlanta)