PITTSBURGH — He wasn't credited with a quality start. He wasn't credited with a win. But Stephen Strasburg couldn't help but emerge from yesterday's start upbeat about the way he pitched.
Though he served up a pair of two-run homers on poorly located fastballs, Strasburg struck out eight Pirates while walking only one and overall was much more efficient during his seven-inning start than he had been in his previous outings over the last month.
"I'm just happy," he said. "I obviously gave up a couple homers, but I was able to get through the seventh. I feel like in the past, if I gave up that many runs I usually have over 100 pitches through six. I just tried to do a better job of pounding the strike zone."
Strasburg did do that, throwing 68 percent of his pitches for strikes (65 of 95), up from his 62 percent rate through his first six starts this season. He also got ahead in the count more, firing strike one to 17 of 28 batters, a 61 percent clip more in line with his career rate.
That said, the right-hander did once again battle fastball command issues, most notably on the two home runs he surrendered. Each came on fastballs over the plate.
But while erratic fastball command might be too much for most pitchers to overcome, Strasburg can get away with it because he can so easily turn to his offspeed pitches when he needs to get big outs. Never was that more apparent than during yesterday's game, with Strasburg recording six of his eight strikeouts on offspeed pitches (five changeups, one curveball).
"I like to say I have confidence in all my pitches," he said. "But I know they're looking for one and they have a tough time hitting the others. It's all about going out there and pitching and using everything you've got."
Strasburg did continue to struggle in one notable area yesterday: His ability to retire leadoff hitters. He's now allowed the leadoff man to reach base in 10 of his last 13 innings, a staggeringly high total that has forced him to pitch out of the stretch far more than he (or the Nationals) would like.
"You don't want to pitch out of the stretch too much, but I'm getting a lot of work out of it right now," he said. "So it can only get better, right?"