WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg went into Sunday's return from the disabled list not expecting much.
"I just told myself today not to have too high expectations as far as execution and just really make it a point to not make it affect the next one," he said.
But instead of a forgettable comeback from injury, Strasburg threw a gem, no-hitting the Reds through 6 2/3 innings in a 12-1 Nationals victory. After 109 pitches, he left the mound with two outs in the seventh to a roaring ovation from the Nationals Park crowd.
With the win, Strasburg became the first National League starter to begin a season 11-0 since Andy Hawkins in 1985. The Nationals have now won 14 of his 15 starts this season, thanks to a combination of his team-best 2.71 ERA and the 6.27 runs per game Washington's offense has provided him (third-highest run support for any pitcher in baseball). Strasburg, who missed two starts with a lower back strain, got off to a rocky start Sunday, walking two of the first three batters he faced, but settled down to retire 18 of the next 19.
With the no-hitter intact, but his pitch count rising, Strasburg walked Eugenio Suarez with one out in the seventh, then let him reach third on a wild pitch and a ground ball. Despite the ongoing no-no, manager Dusty Baker pulled his star righty and summoned Blake Treinen, who induced a grounder to end the inning.
Baker said pulling Strasburg -- a former Tommy John patient who recently signed a seven-year, $175 million extension -- was a no-brainer.
"It's tough to take a guy out of a no-hitter, but we've got to think about the future, and where he had come from off the DL," Baker said. "You've got to weigh the future with the present."
Despite four walks and several hard-hit liners, the Reds were unable to crack Strasburg, striking out five times against him and hitting numerous weak ground balls and popups.
"He was able to use all of his pitches in all the zones, any count," said Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, who struck out twice against Strasburg. "We just weren't able to square anything up. He's a guy that comes out every time, he's an ace. He has an opportunity to go out there every time and not give up hits."
Matt Belisle allowed a leadoff single to Ramon Cabrera to start the eighth, ending the no-hit bid.
Strasburg said he was encouraged to have such an impressive outing fresh off the disabled list and that he understood Baker's decision to remove him in the seventh.
"There's more important things, hopefully, down the road for this team," Strasburg said.