WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg was a different pitcher the last time he faced the Cardinals, back in 2016. This was before he pitched exclusively out of the stretch, when he relied more heavily on an overpowering fastball that averaged about 95 mph, which is about where his fastball has topped out this season.
A lot has changed since 2016, but Strasburg has remained effective and, at times, downright dominant on the mound. Through all the hype, criticism and setbacks due to injuries in Strasburg’s career, that is what has remained -- when healthy, he can still be one of the nastiest pitchers in the game.
On Thursday evening at Nationals Park, Strasburg achieved his latest Major League milestone, recording the 1,500th strikeout of his career by freezing Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson with a 1-2 curveball to end the fifth inning. He became the fastest pitcher in MLB history, by innings, to do so. It was part of a masterful effort from Strasburg, who endured a 2 hour and 32 minute rain delay, to toss 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts and lift the Nationals to a 2-1 victory they so badly needed.
“For all he's been through, the expectations that he came into this organization with, some of the injuries he's dealt with over his career, I'm really happy for him to get a milestone like this at home,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “And he's pitching really, really well right now."
Including his effort Thursday, Strasburg owns a 1.29 ERA with 29 strikeouts and five walks in his last three starts. His outing helped the Nats snap a three-game losing skid before they embark on a challenging 10-game road trip against three teams with postseason aspirations.
And yet as he does so often with any personal achievement, Strasburg downplayed the accomplishment.
“It’s pretty cool, but I was told a long time ago that strikeouts aren’t everything,” he said. “I think it’s important to know how to put guys away when you have two strikes. But at the same time, I get myself in trouble when I’m trying to strike them out.”
To reach the milestone, Strasburg needed just 1,272 1/3 innings, besting the mark set by Chris Sale at 1,290 innings. It’s an accomplishment made more impressive when considering his lengthy injury history. Only twice in Strasburg’s career (2013 and ’14) has he been healthy enough to make at least 30 starts. Only twice in his career has he recorded at least 200 strikeouts (2014 and ’17).
And despite those injuries, he still managed to reach this accomplishment faster than any pitcher in MLB history.
“That's impressive. I mean it really is,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Here's a guy that missed a considerable amount of time in his career and still has 1,500 strikeouts. That just only tells me what an unbelievable pitcher he is, and the way he's going right now, if he stays healthy, the sky is the limit."