For all of his ability and promise, never before had Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg even thrown a pitch in the ninth inning. But against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday afternoon, Strasburg struck out 10 and pitched a four-hitter in a 6-0 victory, his first shutout in 68 career starts.
The landmark personal performance happened despite Strasburg wincing from pain in his groin in the second inning, when manager Davey Johnson and the Nats athletic training staff had to check on him.
The Nats still take a lot of heat for being cautious with Strasburg in 2012, his first full season removed from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Despite a potential risk by staying in the game, Strasburg avoided worsening his groin by staying mechanically sound in his delivery for 99 pitches. Via the Associated Press:
''If he didn't fly open, it didn't bother him,'' Johnson said of Strasburg's pitching motion. ''Obviously, it didn't bother him.''
Despite picking up their third straight victory, the Nats are 57-60, sit 14 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East and are eight games back in the wild card race. It's not too late, but with 45 games remaining on their schedule, it's getting there. Still, losing Strasburg to another injury would have been the rotten cherry atop of a lost season. Instead, Strasburg stayed in the game and used what he has learned since recovering from elbow surgery:
"Honestly, I didn't feel good at all. I didn't really have good command in the bullpen,'' Strasburg said. ''When that's happened in the past, I feel like I would just try to jam it down their throat and throw it as hard as I can. I kind of learned that really didn't get much accomplished.''
And it earned him a sticky Gatorade shower from his teammates:
Reporter Julie Alexandria is getting much better at getting out of the way, too.