Looks like Stephen Strasburg figured out who he is.
Five days removed from a shaky start that prompted light criticism from Nationals manager Davey Johnson, Strasburg bounced back with a gem, striking out 11 New York Mets over seven innings to power Washington to a 5-2 win over New York Wednesday afternoon, completing a three-game sweep of the Mets at Citi Field. The Nationals remained 4 1/2 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and, for at least a short time, found themselves tied with the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball.
The Nationals hit three home runs in support of Strasburg (11-4), who allowed one run on just four hits and did not walk a batter. It was a marked contrast from his last start against Atlanta on July 20, when Strasburg, after having been handed a 9-0 lead, labored late and couldn’t get out of the sixth inning, setting the stage for a remarkable Atlanta comeback.
Johnson’s postgame remarks that night didn’t spare his young ace, saying, “He really doesn’t know who he is at times. He doesn’t trust his stuff.”
His stuff on Wednesday was excellent.
Strasburg, according to Nats Insider Mark Zuckerman, upped his percentage of fastballs thrown from an average of 62 to 71 percent against the Mets, and he had command of it from the beginning, picking up a three-pitch punchout of Ruben Tejada to start the day. In all, the 24-year-old threw 63 of his 94 pitches for strikes, an encouraging departure from some of his recent starts where his control seemed to come and go.
Despite giving up a home run to Ike Davis, Strasburg exuded dominance. Another three-pitch K of Andres Torres leading off the third inning started a stretch of five straight strikeouts for the Mets, and Strasburg was able to fan David Wright, who has been hammering Nationals pitching lately, three times.
Meanwhile, the Washington offense revolved around the long ball. Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa hit back-to-back home runs to right field in the second inning off Mets starter Jeremy Hefner (1-4). Espinosa was in the middle of the Nationals third run as well, in the fourth, after dropping a one-out double into left field and moving to third on a single by Roger Bernadina. Sandy Leon then hit a soft grounder to Davis at first, but Mets catcher Josh Thole dropped the throw at the plate, allowing Espinosa to score.
Johnson summoned under-fire reliever Henry Rodriguez to start the eighth in relief of Strasburg, but it was evident that the leash on the fireballer was going to be short. After walking the first two batters he faced, Rodriguez got the hook from Johnson, who then channeled his inner Tony LaRussa by going to three more relievers to get through the inning. Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen managed to wriggle off the hook with only one run coming across, Storen’s the biggest out as he got Wright to bounce out to third to end the threat. Tyler Clippard closed the game out to record his 18th save.
Champ of the Game: Stephen Strasburg. This was the outing people expect from Strasburg. He had at least one strikeout in every inning but the second and established himself as the major-league leader in Ks with 151. For the Mets, Ike Davis homered against Strasburg and managed to avoid fanning, so he gets the nod.
Chump of the Game: Henry Rodriguez. Three strikes in 11 pitches is not going to cut it for a reliever that has been the only weak link in Washington’s bullpen this year. Despite Johnson’s insistence that he would use Rodriguez again and be confident about it, at some point the reality of a pennant race might catch up to the optimism that Rodriguez can get it together. For New York, Wright’s hat trick of Ks against Strasburg wasn’t pretty, but grounding out against Storen as the tying run in the eighth was his biggest failure of the day. It isn’t often Wright ends up here, so we have to embrace it on the rare occasions it happens.
Next Game: Thursday night, 8:10 ET against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The teams meet for the first time this season, with Edwin Jackson (5-6, 3.73 ERA) looking to extend Washington’s win streak to six games against Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo (8-7. 3.72).