Stephen Strasburg may have had the worst start of his career just five days ago in Miami, but there were certainly no residual effects on Sunday in Washingtons 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. The Nationals ace did not earn the win, but he set his team up with six scoreless innings in what will be one of his final outings of the 2012 season.
Strasburg was razor sharp with nine strikeouts and set down a formidable St. Louis lineup, the offense of a team that currently holds a wild card spot and could be the Nationals first round matchup if both clubs make the postseason. His dominance of a possible playoff foe perhaps further sets in the fact he will be absent for whatever happens, but at this point Strasburg and his teammates have to keep their mind on the task at hand.
Im just focused on the next start. Thats all I can really focus on right now, Strasburg said.
Im in it with these guys and we still got a long way to go but Im going to fight with them until the end.
The task today was to bounce back from that disastrous, five-earned run outing against the Marlins. Strasburg said he met with catcher Kurt Suzuki, pitching coach Steve McCatty, and even Gio Gonzalez in between the starts to figure out how to fix what went wrong.
I just really wanted to go out there and use all my pitches, not necessarily use one like I did last outing. And it seemed to work a lot better, he said.
Obviously the last outing he hit a little speed bump, but he does a good job. For a younger guy he is really mature and confident in himself. He knew he was going to go out there and do well today and you guys saw the Strasburg that you guys are used to seeing, Suzuki said.
Suzuki helped Strasburg both behind the plate and with his bat. In the fourth inning he broke the then-scoreless game with a solo home run off Jake Westbrook, a line drive that landed in the front row of seats in left field. He then put the Nats up by two in the sixth with an RBI single that scored Ian Desmond.
Both Suzuki and manager Davey Johnson acknowledged some changes were made to his swing since he arrived in D.C.
Thats what we have really been doing is really take the effort out of the swing. Just kind of be nice and easy, free and easy, which the less tension you have it is going to be a lot quicker, Suzuki said.
I thought when he first got here, he actually had a little bigger swing, he was swinging up on the ball, a little longer swing. Rick Ecksteins done a good job, Johnson said.
Suzuki also played a role in an important defensive play to end the top of the fourth. After a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error (he had two in the game), Strasburg walked David Freese on a wild pitch to put men on first and third. Bryan Anderson flied to right and Bryce Harper threw a bullet to home to get him out. The throw was well in time for a tag, but Suzuki had to step off the plate and make an agile move turning around to make the out. The double play ended the inning and brought the crowd of 31,096 out of their seats.
The Cardinals were able to break through in the seventh inning after Strasburg had been pulled. Sean Burnett came in and retired the first two batters swiftly, but unraveled after a two-out single to Pete Kozma. David Descalso came up next and pulled a ball into the Nats bullpen for a two-run, game-tying homer.
He made a bad pitch today, got behind, his control has not been as sharp., Johnson said.
This is a pretty tough ballclub. Theyve got left-handers hitting left-handed pitching. Just cant make mistakes. I thought he was better today except for that one pitch.
Burnett has allowed four earned runs in his last 5.1 innings, including two consecutive blown saves. After the game Johnson was asked if perhaps he was being used too much.
I might give him a couple days off to regroup. Sometimes you catch a hot-hitting club, but hes been exceptional. Im not worried about overpitching him.
The Nationals regrouped in the next frame to take another two-run lead. Michael Morse and Chad Tracy each singled with two-outs off reliever Lance Lynn, with rookie Eury Perez replacing Morse as the runner. Perez stole third which, according to Davey was not authorized, and then Desmond batted him home with a single. Danny Espinosa was up next and scored Tracy with a line drive to center field.
St. Louis would score another run in the eighth with consecutive doubles by Tony Cruz and David Freese, but closer Tyler Clippard shut the door in the ninth for his 29th save of the season.
The Nationals took their third game of four against the Cardinals and won their 81st on the season. That total matches the club record since moving to Washington that was set in 2005. The 2005 team got number 81 on September 28, the 159th game of the season. They still have 29 games left this season to improve on that number. They are on pace for about 99 wins after Sunday's game.
It was a balanced win for the Nationals, no doubt about it. Their ace pitched a classic gem, they overcame a game-tying home run with a seventh inning rally, and saw their ever-reliable closer seal the win in the ninth. The fact it came against a potential playoff opponent does bring significance, they even admit it.
Everybody feels thats a heck of a ballclub over there, everybodys a little more amped up, Johnson said. But all these games are big games, and when you play a really good opponent thats in the hunt, you sense it.