Stephen Strasburg has quite easily been the Nationals' best pitcher over the last few weeks since he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 8, and that trend continued in Tuesday night's win over the San Diego Padres.
The Nationals right-hander overcame a second-inning home run by Jedd Gyorko to go six strong innings of two-run ball with one walk and seven strikeouts. The Gyorko homer and Yonder Alonso single right before it were the only two hits Strasburg allowed all night.
Strasburg has made four starts since he's been back with the Nats and in each he's lasted at least six innings and given up two runs or less. He has walked just three batters during that stretch to go along with 32 strikeouts.
While the rest of the Nats' rotation has battled inconsistencies in the month of August, Strasburg has been as reliable as ever. He has a 1.73 ERA this month, while the other starters sit at 5.13.
That 5.13 number is not far off from the 5.16 ERA Strasburg himself had in his 13 starts this season before August. Clearly there is a difference in the results, but exactly why that is depends on who you ask.
"No difference," Strasburg said. "I'm just going out there with the same game play and trying to focus on hitting my spots and using all my pitches."
Okay, let's try Matt Williams' take:
"Health. Health is a big key. If he feels good when he's out there then he's able to let it go. I don't know how many balls he threw that were 98 miles per hour tonight, but quite a few of them. He sat 95 to 97. That just means he feels good. We're happy to have him take the mound for us."
Catcher Wilson Ramos echoed that sentiment.
"He's more aggressive right now. When he came back from DL, he's being aggressive, he's pitching more good. His velo is back, you know 98 miles per hour fastball, so he attack the hitter really well," he said.
Strasburg, in fact, averaged 96.8 miles per hour with his fastball on Tuesday night, the highest for him since June 2, 2012 in a start against the Braves when he sat around 97.3. Early this season when he was battling minor injuries and working through mechanical issues, Strasburg was closer to 94 on his fastball. Now he is sitting consistently around 96 and touching 98 and 99 with more frequency.
With his fastball velocity up, Strasburg is also keeping it down in the zone with impressive control.
"I thought the fastball down command was good tonight," Williams said. "He threw a lot of balls down in the strike zone, a lot of fastballs. When he does that, breaking balls open for him. Changeups open for him."
There is no question Strasburg is locked in. His last four outings have come against the Padres, who are eighth in baseball in runs scored in August, the Rockies (twice) and the Giants. This season the Rockies and Giants are second and third in NL run production, respectively.
Strasburg is pitching his best at an opportune time for the Nats with the season nearing its home stretch. Now it's time for his rotation mates to follow suit.