It's been over 10 months since Stephen Strasburg last earned the loss in a game, so you can forgive him if he doesn't remember what it's like to see an 'L' next to his name in a box score. Also forgivable is the fact he simply can't explain how he's been so fortunate.
Because, let's be honest. Going 13-0 to start a season takes a lot of elements, a lot of things to go a pitcher's way. Most, you could argue, are in their control. But some aren't, and that's why even attributing win-loss records to pitchers has become a point of contention in modern baseball discourse.
What is not debatable, is that Strasburg has been exceptional this season. He holds a 2.51 ERA through 16 starts after his eight innings of one-run ball on Friday night against the Pirates. That, combined with his average run support of 6.71 per game - best in baseball - has Strasburg on a roll not seen in the NL in over 100 years. His 13-0 record gives him the best start for an NL pitcher since Rube Marquard went 18-0 for the New York Giants in 1912. Now, that's a name.
For Strasburg, it's an incredible stretch that has produced a wonderful stat. But, again, he can't explain it.
"The results I can’t control. I’m trying to go out there and execute pitches and roll with the highs and lows," he said.
"You ask any veteran pitcher in the league. There’s years when they feel like they really dominated all year and didn’t have the numbers to show for it. There’s other years where they feel like they really didn’t pitch to the level they expected and they had all the numbers to show for it. All that stuff is going to be what it’s going to be but as far as I control, I’m just trying to go out there and get better and help this team win some games."
Strasburg has certainly met that goal. The only game the Nationals have lost this season that he started was on June 4 in Cincinnati, and that outing was cut short because of a calf injury. When Strasburg is on the mound, the odds are extraordinarily high these days for the Nats to win that game.
The right-hander is having the best season of his career and to his teammates and coaches, it's no accident. They see a difference in Strasburg's demeanor. He doesn't get rattled as often by mistakes made by himself and those behind him.
“In my opinion, this is the best I’ve seen him pitch. In the last few years, he had a tendency to maybe get down on when things didn’t go his way or defense let him down," catcher Wilson Ramos said through an interpreter.
"But I’ve been talking a lot to him, keeping him upbeat about letting his pitches work and letting his defense work for him as well. We have a great team playing behind him, and he’s finally taken to that. He’s pitching extremely well, and the team’s helped him out a lot. So far he’s having a great year. His attitude, I think, is the biggest difference, with the way he’s going out there and just being aggressive, a lot more aggressive than he has been the last few years. And I think that’s made a big difference.”
Strasburg has also been known for having trouble with hot weather. It was 90 degrees at first pitch on Friday, but that didn't slow Strasburg, who didn't allow a hit until Starling Marte singled to lead off the top of the fifth inning.
"It seems like his focus and concentration, it seems like he’s in the best shape of his life," Baker said. "Usually, I heard he would kind of wilt in these games but we urged him to increase his work in-between starts. It seems like it paid off, he seemed unfazed by the heat."
Strasburg isn't sure if he's in better physical shape than he was in the past, but he will admit he has changed his workout routine in order to prevent injuries. Last spring he suffered an ankle sprain and in June he strained his back, both times while working out.
"As I’ve gotten older, I’m not trying to go out there and lift the house in the weight room. I think I’m just trying to get back to square one, ready for the next start," he explained.
"I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of experience in that over the last couple years. Last year was an injury that wasn’t really something that happened out there on the field."
Since Strasburg returned from the upper back strain on July 3, he's allowed just two runs in 21 2/3 innings across three starts. In his first game back he held the Reds hitless through 6 2/3 innings. In his second outing he held the Mets hitless through the first four frames, just like on Friday when he did the same against the Pirates.
Strasburg was good before he went on the DL, but he's returned even better, particularly early in games.
"He got some grief for not pitching in the All-Star game, but he was doing what he thought was best for us and him," Baker said. "Boy, that sets the tone for the rest of the series."
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