Pitching for first time since July 23, the Nationals right-hander was solid in his return from an elbow nerve impingement. Strasburg, who played for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State, held the Padres to two runs on four hits in six innings. His 91-pitch effort included eight strikeouts and just one walk, although he couldn't avoid a loss, as the Nats' offense struggled in the 3-1 setback.
"I hate to lose a game like that because he threw so well," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
Strasburg (10-4) was in the mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball. His curveball had bite and his changeup left the Padres guessing. Once he found his legs after a rocky first inning, Strasburg was, well, Strasburg, complementing his explosive fastball with plus secondary pitches.
"Curveball was good, changeup was really good," he said. "So got to bottle it up and trust the process."
Jose Pirela's two-out single in the opening frame was followed by Yangervis Solarte's home run on Strasburg's 96-mph fastball.
"He just made that mistake in the first inning when he got the ball over the plate a little bit for the home run," Baker said. "But other than that, he threw the ball great today."
The Padres made noise with that 2-0 uprising, but their bats then grew silent. Strasburg, a two-time All-star, retired the next 10 batters, with half of them coming on strikeouts. Overall, he sat down 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.
"Yeah it was coming out good," Strasburg said. "It was just getting the rust off a little bit."
Cory Spangenberg reached on an infield hit in the fifth and how it came about had to incite Strasburg. Spangenberg hit a harmless roller up the first-base line and Strasburg appeared poised to field it. But at the last minute Strasburg pulled his glove away and by the time Ryan Zimmerman grabbed the ball, it was too late to get the speedy Spangenberg.
But really it was it too bad for the Padres. Strasburg preceded to strike out the side.
"I think this time off helped him and hopefully it can help him down the stretch and beyond," Baker said. "He did look fresh. He had good tempo. He had real good command."
Trouble would find Strasburg in his final inning. Manuel Margot opened with a walk, but he was erased on Carlos Asuaje's fielder's choice. Asuaje then broke early on a steal attempt and Strasburg stepped off and threw to second to start a rundown for the second out.
Pirela followed with his second hit when driving a 98-mph fastball on Strasburg's 89th pitch. But Strasburg, who missed last season's final month with an elbow injury, got Solarte on a comebacker, and his latest comeback was complete.
"I felt strong so obviously it was still there," Strasburg said. "I'll probably be back 100 percent, normal start next time."
But this time Strasburg looked sharp. With his outing coming less than 24 hours from ace Max Scherzer going on the disabled list with a stiff neck, Baker finally exhaled.
"He threw the ball well," Baker said. "You wouldn't even know he had been out."
Padres manager Andy Green agreed.
"Strasburg was really good today," he said. "Changeup played in the bottom of the zone all day long. He went to that more than he normally does, at least against us. It's always been the curveball. It was a lot of changeups, and they were really good today."
Jay Paris is a contributor to MLB.com based in San Diego. He covered the Nationals on Saturday.