Stephen Strasburg struck out six batters in three innings last night.
He won't turn 25 until July. He's made only 45 big-league starts spanning 251 1/3 innings. And, as the right-hander is quick to point out, he still hasn't pitched a full season as a professional.
Which is all the more reason to marvel at what Strasburg has accomplished already in his career while also recognizing there's still plenty more room for growth.
At this stage, Strasburg has mostly gotten by on pure stuff. Few young pitchers ever have possessed the devastating repertoire at his disposal while also exhibiting pinpoint command of all three pitches: fastball, curveball, changeup.
That stuff, along with the ability to harness it, has allowed Strasburg to be one of the game's most-dominant pitchers, owner of a 4.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio that would rank by far as the greatest in the modern era if only he had enough innings to qualify.
Strasburg, though, understands there's so much more to the art of pitching than pure stuff, and he's forever on a quest to develop into a more complete pitcher, one who relies on his head just as much as his arm.
We're seeing that already this spring, with Strasburg making a point not to simply take the mound every fifth day and try to overpower opposing hitters. (Not that he can't do that, and certainly there were times last night during his six-strikeout start against the Mets when he just reached back and fired off a knee-buckling curveball or an unhittable changeup.)
But Strasburg also has been working on altering his sequencing of pitches, keeping those batters off-balance even more. Look at some of the hitter's counts in which he threw offspeed pitches last night.
And he's been working on easing off the gas pedal a bit more and trying to coax more movement out of his fastball, especially his two-seamer, which has for three years been his most underrated pitch but potentially his most effective. It's that two-seamer that darts down and away from left-handed hitters, induces weak grounders to the left side of the infield and records quick outs.
That's a significant key to Strasburg's progression. If there's been a flaw to his game over the years, it's been his penchant for running up hefty pitch counts. That, in turn, has limited his innings. Which were already limited to begin with.
Strasburg wants nothing more now than to be able to pitch deeper into games. He's never taken the mound for the eighth inning since turning pro. He's reached the seventh inning only eight times. What's the best way to reverse that trend? Throw fewer pitches, giving Davey Johnson less reason to pull him before he ever reaches the final third of a ballgame.
Hence, the desire to record more quick outs, which can be accomplished with more two-seamers down and away that result in weak groundballs. Strasburg made some strides in that area last season, but he can still do plenty more to improve.
He's made that a point of emphasis this spring, but it remains an ongoing process. As dominant as he was last night, he still needed 52 pitches to complete three innings. At that pace, he'll never be allowed to see the mound for the seventh, let alone the eighth or ninth.
Strasburg has plenty of time to work on these finer points over the next month. He's still got five more scheduled exhibition starts before Opening Day.
If he can pull it off and become more efficient, the Nationals are going to have themselves a truly complete pitcher, one who still hasn't turned 25.