In the wake of one of the worst performances of his career, Stephen Strasburg mentioned a mechanical glitch he needed to fix, a small tweak he felt would lead to fewer pitches left over the heart of the plate.
Just as important, though, may have been the mental adjustment Strasburg was able to make and use to his advantage during his dominant performance Tuesday night against the Rockies.
“I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “I think I just wanted to go out there and trust myself and just have a little bit finer focus on where I wanted to execute the pitch. And I felt like I was able to keep the ball down a little bit better.”
The results spoke for themselves: Strasburg carried a shutout into the eighth inning Tuesday before surrendering a garbage-time home run, the only blemish on his night and the only hiccup during the Nationals’ 7-1 thumping of Colorado.
Strasburg looked nothing like the guy who was torched for seven runs Wednesday in Milwaukee, matching a career high. Instead, he looked very much in control, having his way with the Rockies’ lineup en route to a convincing victory.
Batterymate Wilson Ramos agreed Strasburg’s renewed focus was more important than any physical alterations he made.
“To me, he doesn’t need to change too much,” the catcher said. “He just needs to go out there and do what he likes to do. Just focus and trust his pitches, and that’s it. That’s all he needs. He’s got good stuff. He doesn’t need anything more.”
Strasburg’s night did get off to a bit of a laborious start, with the top of Colorado’s lineup fouling off seven pitches in the top of the first, forcing the right-hander to throw 21 total pitches to the game’s first three batters. But he bounced back quickly from that, needing only 72 pitches to complete his next six innings.
“I think I just settled down a little bit more and was able to command the fastball a little better,” he said. “When they were fouling them off, I wouldn’t say they were necessarily great pitches. I think once I was able to execute the pitch a little better, I was able to have them put it in play with weak contact and they hit groundballs.”
On a hot, muggy night — the heat index was 97 at first pitch — Strasburg worked a bit slower than usual. But he also worked deeper into the game than usual. With the Nationals comfortably ahead, manager Matt Williams let his young hurler take the mound for the eighth inning for only the second time in 18 starts this season, only the seventh time in his career.
Strasburg wound up surrendering a towering home run to D.J. LeMahieu and then departed two batters later with his pitch count at 111, but the Nationals were pleased to have the opportunity to extend him more than they had in recent outings.
“Any time somebody’s got a shutout like that … try to push him through the eighth and preserve that,” Williams said. “LeMahieu got a curveball and took care of that in the last inning, but I thought he pitched really well.”
Strasburg still has a ways to go to get his entire season back on track — he’s now 7-6 with a 3.53 ERA, 1/2-run higher than his career mark entering 2014 — but bouncing back from a particularly poor outing six days earlier was an important first step.
“I don’t think it was something crazy,” he said. “Everybody has bad outings over the course of the year. You’ve just got to get back to where you want to be mentally and go out there and execute pitches.”