Strasburg lights-out in seventh straight win

July 28th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Within his own rotation, has almost become a bit overshadowed this season. is currently the best pitcher on the planet. was the Nats’ splashy offseason addition. It has allowed Strasburg, who is most comfortable flying under the radar whenever possible, to somewhat quietly put together one of the best seasons of any starter in the National League this season.

On Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, Strasburg spun arguably his finest start of the season, leading the Nationals to an 11-4 victory against a stacked Dodgers lineup. He carried a perfect game into the fifth, unyielding until 's one-out double down the left-field line. doubled Pollock home later in the inning, and those were the only hits or runs Strasburg allowed on the afternoon. He held Los Angeles to one run on two hits and nine strikeouts without issuing a walk in seven innings to snap a three-game losing streak and help Washington avoid being swept.

The performance made Strasburg a winner for the seventh start in a row -- the longest streak of his career -- making him just the second pitcher in Nationals history (2005-present) with a win in seven consecutive starts, joining Scherzer (who also did it earlier this season).

“He's been unbelievable,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Everything about him this year has been amazing. Takes the ball, the way he works, his attitude, he's having fun. I just watched him dance. He's having a good time, and he's going out there every fifth day, and he's competing and giving us a chance to win.”

Strasburg has stepped up in a big way this month when the Nationals have needed him. Scherzer has spent most of the month on the injured list or battling a back injury and the No. 5 spot in the rotation has been unsettled for months. But their starting pitching hasn’t missed a beat and Strasburg has led the way.

Strasburg was excellent in five starts in July, going 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA and a 44-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has a hit in three straight starts and has driven in more runs (six) than he has given up (four).

“He's taking the ball every start and keeps getting better,” second baseman said. “Obviously he's really good and it's tough to realize that, but he has.”

Dozier is on to something.

Strasburg had already been relying more heavily on his curveball this year, but that trend became more pronounced in July. Entering Sunday’s start, he has been throwing his curveball 32.9 percent of the time, the largest gap between his curveball and the rest of his pitches of the season, according to Statcast. The next-most-frequent pitch choice has been his four-seam fastball, which he is throwing just 25.8 percent of the time this month. Strasburg began the day with the fifth-most strikeouts on curveballs in baseball.

But his primary putaway pitch has been his changeup. This month, he has a 50 percent strikeout rate on plate appearances that end with a changeup.

“If you’ve got an elite pitch wouldn’t you want to throw it as much as possible?” Nats pitching coach Paul Menhart said. “He’s got three of them, so it’s actually what’s working that day most effectively. The changeup and the curveball are interchangeable, so sometimes he has a little better feel for one or the other.”

Although Strasburg is throwing fewer fastballs overall, his velocity is going up. His average fastball velocity (combining two-seamers and four-seamers) is 94.4 mph, an increase from 93.7 mph in June and the hardest it’s been all season. On Sunday, the velocity on his four-seamer averaged 94.3 mph, so he used it frequently. He threw 32 four-seamers and 30 curveballs during his 100-pitch outing.

“A lot of times, I think his stuff should be illegal because it’s so good,” center fielder said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez.

Strasburg made his 22nd start of the season on Sunday, which matched his total from a frustrating injury-plagued 2018 campaign where he posted the highest ERA of his career. After that, he made the decision to remain in D.C. during the offseason and spend his winter working out at the team facility.

So far Strasburg has not only been healthy but is putting together one of the best seasons of any starter in the NL. He has posted a 3.26 ERA in 140 2/3 innings, the third-most in the NL while his 168 strikeouts rank second in the league and his 14 wins are best in the Majors.

“I think you get into your routine and you try to build as much as you can and maintain it as best you can over the course of the season,” Strasburg said.

“Mechanically, some of the stuff I’ve been working on with [Menhart] in bullpen sessions, the repeatability part of it,” Strasburg said. “Just getting in a good training program and just listening to the body and not trying to beat a dead horse when you need a little extra rest.”