Stephen Strasburg on Sunday in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

And, for the most part, Strasburg rebounded . He gave up three runs on five hits, a walk and a wild pitch over five innings. He struck out seven and fired 91 pitches. That’s a solid, not spectacular, line. But here are the deeper reasons why Strasburg’s start was encouraging for the Nationals and the right-hander.

“I think the biggest thing is to stay focused and just try to find the positive in every outing and hold onto that and use it to your advantage and hopefully keep trying to go in that direction,” he said.

>>> Fastball command was better: In the past few starts before Sunday, Strasburg’s fastball usage dipped to 55.6 percent in his woeful Arizona start on May 12 and 64.1 percent in his short start against the Marlins on May 5. The Nationals urged Strasburg to use his fastball more. In finding a good fastball, his offspeed pitches would improve, too. And he could avoid using pitches such as his slider, which got him in trouble in his previous start.

So against the Padres, Strasburg fired a lot of fastballs. Twenty-four of his 31 first-inning pitches were fastballs. In doing so, he looked more comfortable using it. Although Matt Kemp notched an infield single that scored the game’s first run, Strasburg hit 97 mph in the bottom corner of the strike zone.

“Just locating my fastball better,” Strasburg said. “I think my change-up to lefties was a little bit better. My curveball was good, too.”

Strasburg finished the game with 91 pitches, 64 of them fastballs. That 70 percent fastball usage was the highest of any start this season. Opponents have hit Strasburg’s fastball well this season, which started a vicious cycle of using the pitch less in favor of offspeed pitches in some tough situations. But Strasburg’s command of his fastball was improved enough Sunday that he kept using it.

“I talk to him [Sunday] before the game,” catcher Jose Lobaton said. “I told him, ‘Just try to go out there and pitch. Just throw the ball.’ I’m going to try to move a little bit more today. I think he missed in the middle, really missed in the middle, was a homer. … I told him I’m going to try to stay low with my glove and he stayed there. He threw the ball where I was putting the glove.”

>>> He was more aggressive: In using his fastball more, Strasburg dictated at-bats. His 95.9-mph, four-seam fastball average was his highest of any start this season. The two hits Strasburg gave up in the sixth inning came on curveballs.

Manager Matt Williams took Strasburg out of the game before he could get into any more trouble, allowing him to leave on a good note. Tanner Roark gave up a hit that scored a run, but Strasburg finished with five-plus more positive innings than he had in recent weeks.

“It’s just his aggressiveness,” Williams said. “He was throwing his fastball where he wanted to and that allows him to get ahead in the count. Then he can use his other stuff if he wants to. He was really aggressive early with his heater which is a good sign.”

>>> He looked relaxed on the mound: The Nationals have talked with Strasburg at times about his body language. His teammates reminded him to keep his head up on the field, even when things begin to spiral downhill. Strasburg has improved; in the second half of 2013, he worked to harness his emotions after mistakes in the field. But as things got rough for him over the past few weeks, the Nationals reminded Strasburg again to stay positive.

Before the game, “I say, ‘You know, just go after them. Whatever happens happens. Just try to focus,'” Lobaton said. “He was much better. Fastball command was much better. He was throwing strikes. Curveball was working. I think that was really important for us. The way he threw [Sunday] that’s the way he is. That’s something positive for him that we win the game so for the next start he’s going to be more relaxed.”

Before each pitch on Sunday, Strasburg looked in at Lobaton’s signs and took a deep breath, then turned and fired a pitch. In the first inning, when he gave up a run despite striking out three and the only hit didn’t leave the infield, Strasburg was composed.

“He did okay with [runners on],” Williams said. “He had a little stress early; a guy trying to steal third and a groundball up the middle. The ball from [Danny Espinosa] short-hopped [Lobaton]. Other than that, he got outs. It was a high pitch count early but he settled in enough to get him into the sixth inning. If he didn’t have issue there, we’d have let him get through that inning, too. He was good. Much better than last time out for sure and something to build on.”

Entering the game, opponents were hitting .431 with men on base against Strasburg. At times, Strasburg’s focus is taken away by runners on base and he has had trouble with his mechanics in the stretch. Strasburg gave up a single to lead off the second inning but escaped the inning without any trouble, pacing himself better.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Strasburg said. “It’s just something I’m working through right now. It’s progress so I can’t be mad about that.”


Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg power the Nationals to a 10-5 win over the Padres


Notes on Denard Span, Casey Janssen and Anthony Rendon

Bryce Harper making strides in right field

Jayson Werth out this weekend with bruised left wrist

Doug Fister has a strained flexor muscle in forearm

A.J. Cole returns, better and calmer


Charlotte 7, Syracuse 1: Bruce Billings allowed four runs over five innings. Rafael Martin fired a scoreless inning.

Harrisburg 10, Trenton 4: Richard Bleier gave up three runs, one earned, over six innings. Shawn Pleffner went 2 for 4 with three RBI. Brian Goodwin drove in two. On rehab, Erik Davis allowed one runs but walk five over 1 1/3 innings. Even with an 0 for 4, Wilmer Difo is hitting .308 at Harrisburg.

Frederick 3, Potomac 2: Reynaldo Lopez allowed one run on five hits, struck out four and walked two over six innings. Christopher Bostick went 2 for 4 with a walk. Brandon Miller drew two walks.

Hagerstown 5, West Virginia 4: Luis Reyes coughed up four runs on five hits over six innings. Grant DeBruin went 2 for 4 and Jeff Gardner finished 2 for 3 with two RBI.