Want to start a debate? ask a baseball fan what Strasburg’s best pitch is. Is it the fastball that averages the highest velocity in the majors at 95.4 MPH or on average 1.8 MPH faster than Justin Verlander’s. Or is it his 90 MPH change-up that darts, dodges, and dives away from bats at times looking more like a knuckle ball than a traditional change. Perhaps it is the curve ball that has locked up more than a few hitters and since his debut in 2010 the league has only managed a .164 batting average against. There is a case to be made for all of Strasburg’s three main pitches, but there is no debate that when he has them all working he is close to unhittable.
Just ask the Phillies batter who managed only five hits and one run off of Strasburg who walked none, struck out nine, and hit a batter in a dazzle start on a pleasant Sunday afternoon at Nats Park. Strasburg displayed the art of pitching in such a manner that it is hard to think of him as a pitcher or a hurler and much easier to think of him in the old time terminology of a twirler, and on Sunday he had batters spinning and twirler in confusion at his fastball, curve, and change.
For the first six innings everything that Strasburg did Cole Hamels matched. Both pitchers entered the seventh with a shutout, three hits allowed, and at least five strikeouts. Up until the seventh inning this was an old fashioned pitcher’s duel with Strasburg and Hamels going toe to toe, pitch for pitch, and it was going to come down to who blinked first. Strasburg in the seventh didn’t blink. Instead he struck out the side for the second time that afternoon.
Hamels’ seventh was not so dominate. He gave up back to back singles to Zimmerman and LaRoche. Ian Desmond would then drop a sac bunt which was a questionable move as Tyler Moore is not the most contact heavy hitter on the squad, but Hamels fell behind him 3-0 before putting him on via an intentional walk. The game now came down to Jhonatan Solano vs. Cole Hamels. Sounds like advantage Phillies, but a slow roller to Michael Young with Zimmerman breaking from third would go down as a fielder’s choice error as LaRoche would also come around to score on the errant throw. Before the inning was over the Nats would tack on three more runs on Lombardozzi and Span doubles.
All in all it was a good afternoon at Nats Park. The Nats struggling offense broke out against one of the top pitchers in the NL, and Stephen Strasburg had his third dominating start in a row. There are questions about Harper’s health as he was removed for a pinch runner in the decisive seventh inning, and the Nats have won just one game when he is not in the starting line-up. His long term health is more important to this franchise than the immediate games. It will be a story to watch over the next couple days, but for today the Nats looked like the team they were thought to be before the season began. Dominate starting pitching, a balanced line-up, and the ability to take down a lesser divisional foe.