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The Nationals ace is hoping this year to pitch more so to contact, keep pitch counts low, and in turn stay on the mound later into games. In Monday’s 2-0 Opening Day win against the Marlins he took a convincing step in that direction.
Strasburg needed only 80 pitches to carve up Miami batters through seven innings. He finished with three hits allowed, no walks, and just three strikeouts. The Marlins made contact, they just couldn’t get anything going.
“I noticed in spring training early on that they don’t want to get to two strikes,” Strasburg said. “I was fortunate enough to be making good quality pitches and getting some quick outs.
“I’ll take the quick outs any day of the week.”
Strasburg actually gave up a hit to the first batter he faced, Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre. But he quickly settled in and retired the next 19 before a Giancarlo Stanton double in the seventh inning.
The key to his efficiency, according to manager Davey Johnson, was the command of his fastball.
“Stras was amazing. He basically threw a lot of fastballs and threw a few curveballs and a few changeups. Basically he was locating his fastball real good. He just pitched a great game.”
Strasburg’s efficiency set the tone for a quick day. The total game time for Monday’s win was two hours and ten minutes. The pregame festivities seemed longer.
Strasburg was in a zone that left his teammates impressed and, for a while, little to do in the field.
“Definitely makes my job easy,” Denard Span said. “I almost got a lawn chair out there. Not too many balls were hit to me.”
“It's fun when he's throwing strikes like that,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “You get behind him, with his stuff, you're in trouble. It was an unbelievable outing by him today. I think he's learned how to pitch, which is scary."
When Strasburg left the mound having only thrown 80 pitches through seven innings, many expected him to be back out for the eighth inning. On Friday Strasburg said he was looking forward to pitching later in games this season, specifically into the eighth as he has never done so as a major leaguer. But out trotted reliever Tyler Clippard for the next inning, as Johnson decided Strasburg had done enough.
“Any other day other than opening day I probably would’ve gone farther with him,” he said. “Opening day, it drains you. It’s a long spring, coming out there, opening day crowd, all the ceremonies, all the people.”
Johnson said his original plan for Strasburg was 90 to 100 pitches, but he decided to relieve him anyways after getting seven strong innings.
“I didn’t think he was tired, even at the end of the game. But again, first time out, opening day, gave me seven solid innings. I’m not pushing the envelope. I never have, never will.”
Strasburg said he felt great at the time he was pulled and could have gone longer, but he understands his manager’s decision.
“If it wasn’t Opening Day and the first start of the year it would have been a different story.”
Strasburg was glad the first game is now in the books and that Opening Day is finally over after months of waiting. Now the team can get back into the routine of the regular season where Strasburg hopes to have plenty more opportunities to pitch in the eighth inning and perhaps even longer.