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Strasburg's fastball sets tone on 13-K night

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg turned in one of his sharpest outings of the season in Wednesday's 8-4 victory against the Cubs, featuring one of his best fastballs of the season and perhaps his best changeup in years.

It all added up to 13 strikeouts, the third-highest total of his career, as he stifled Chicago's offense through seven innings of three-run ball at Nationals Park.

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WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg turned in one of his sharpest outings of the season in Wednesday's 8-4 victory against the Cubs, featuring one of his best fastballs of the season and perhaps his best changeup in years.

It all added up to 13 strikeouts, the third-highest total of his career, as he stifled Chicago's offense through seven innings of three-run ball at Nationals Park.

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"He had it going on tonight," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You could just sort of tell when he left last night that he was going to be ready today. He had that kind of look in his eyes."

Video: CHC@WSH: Baker discusses Strasburg's great start

Strasburg had been dominating hitters all season with his offspeed pitches, while his fastball had been oddly hittable lately. Entering Wednesday, opponents were batting .275 with a .483 slugging percentage against the heater in 2017 compared to .237 with a .389 slugging percentage in 2016. He had been yielding an average exit velocity of 90.8 mph on his fastball, the highest in any year since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015.

Strasburg's fastball was much sharper against the Cubs, who had an average exit velocity of 77.5 mph on the six balls put in play against it. He also induced nine swinging strikes with his fastball, matching his season high from April 14 against the Phillies.

"It had good carry through it," catcher Matt Wieters said. "That first inning, the radar gun wasn't working, but I felt like he was carrying a little bit extra tonight."

Video: CHC@WSH: Strasburg K's 13 Cubs in 13 seconds

Strasburg combined that fastball with a devastating changeup, which got Strasburg 11 swinging strikes Wednesday night, the most he has had on that pitch in a single game since 2011.

"It felt like I was physically in a good spot," Strasburg said. "Kind of last couple warm starts, I was kind of really feeling the effects of it. I talked to the strength coach and we've got a good program going in, so I felt really, physically, where I needed to be based on the hydration and all that stuff leading up to the start."

"I thought Strasburg had really good stuff," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. [He had] uncanny command of his curveball for the first part of his game. His changeup was pertinent and definitely alive with his fastball. He was throwing strikes, and the thing was, he was throwing his hook for a strike whenever he wanted to. That was tough."  

During the midst of one of his best outings of the year, however, Strasburg felt a back spasm in the middle of his back in between the third and fourth innings. He pitched through it and afterward did not sound too concerned about his back going forward. After receiving some treatment postgame, he said it was already feeling better. Strasburg has remained healthy thus far in a strong 2017 season that could result in him being named an All-Star for the third time in his career.

"It's just about staying up on top of it and doing some exercises over the course of the next few weeks, and the rest of the season, just to kind of make everything fire correctly," he said. "I think the biggest thing is not slouching over so much, too, when I'm sitting down on the bench, trying not to slouch over on the bench. Let it calm down."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Stephen Strasburg