MIAMI — Ryan Zimmerman calls it a “cutter/slider thing.” Catcher Wilson Ramos and pitching coach Mike Maddux say “cutter.” Stephen Strasburg does not call it anything, as he has yet to acknowledge it exists.
“It’s a side-to-side breaking ball. Hard like a cutter, moves like a slider,” Maddux said. “We can call it what we want.”
Whatever it is, Strasburg’s newest pitch, though “new” is somewhat of a misnomer. Maddux said Strasburg has had the pitch in his arsenal for years — and, indeed, Brooks Baseball (a website that tracks usage), said Strasburg used it occasionally over the last few seasons. Over his first two starts of the season, Strasburg used it about 12 percent of the time. Tuesday, one could hardly tell it was a new pitch at all, as he used it frequently and confidently, often getting foul balls or bad contact, if not just pushing left-handed hitters off the plate. He mixed it with a fastball touching 97, his curveball and his change-up as he struck out 10 Marlins Tuesday night.
“He threw the ball really well. All his pitches were working today — change-up really good, fastball really good,” Ramos said. “The cutter was a lot better every time.”
The pitch gives Strasburg something that moves right to left – away from righties, in on lefties. His change-up and two-seamer dart in to right-handed hitters. His curveball is slow, with what Maddux calls “depth,” as devastating because of its vertical break as its lateral movement. But the cutter moves laterally, and does so with force. In so doing, it keeps left-handed hitters uncomfortable and gives right-handed hitters another look.
Cutters tend to induce bad contact, and while Strasburg struck out double digits for the 22nd time in his career Tuesday, he said he did not care so much about the strikeouts as being efficient and getting outs. He threw 105 pitches in eight innings. Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said that while complete-game shutouts are rare, the Nationals did not want to push Strasburg now at his expense later. So he pulled him after eight, though he probably could have gone further.
Since August 8, 2015, Strasburg is 9-2 with a 1.74 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 88 innings — “video game stuff,” as Bryce Harper called it Tuesday.
“He’s coming into his own. It’s incredible,” Harper said. “You see what he did in college, he had so much pressure going through the minors, coming up and everything, got hurt, trying to get back into it with his ankle and things like that. Then the second half last year was absolutely ridiculous.”
Marlins Manager Don Mattingly called Tuesday’s eight-inning, 10 strikeout gem one of the best games he has seen Strasburg pitch. Ryan Zimmerman, who has seen Strasburg from the start, sees growth.
“I think he’s learned how to pitch a little, too. He’s throwing that cutter/slider thing now as well,” Zimmerman said. “…For him, it’s about staying healthy, like it is for all of us. He’s also matured and learned how to pitch a little more. And when you combine that with the stuff that he is, it’s pretty dangerous.”