Mar 20, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — The Stephen Strasburg who took the mound Thursday afternoon and shut out the Tigers for five innings certainly looked a guy ready to take the mound on Opening Day for the Nationals. In scattering three hits and a walk, Strasburg cruised through his fourth start of the spring and lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to a miniscule 0.64.
At this point, there’s really nothing more Strasburg needs to accomplish this spring, aside from building up his stamina a bit more after throwing 66 pitches against Detroit.
“I think he’s right on track,” manager Matt Williams said.
Williams could say the same thing about all three of his top starters, who have methodically dominated their way through the Grapefruit League and have positioned themselves to enter the season worthy of all the accolades that have already been bestowed upon them.
Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann have now made a combined 11 starts this spring, during which time they have posted a 1.26 ERA an 0.813 WHIP. Yes, it’s spring training and the results don’t count. But given the choice between great results or terrible results, which one would you prefer?
Besides, Williams is impressed with those three for reasons that extend far beyond their ERA.
“Their pitching is one thing,” the manager said. “But I’m encouraged that both guys that were asked to sacrifice bunt got the bunt down. That’s encouraging. Because that’s a big part of our team. Their pitching speaks for itself. They’ve competed, they’ve thrown strikes. They’ve done a real good job of holding baserunners, which was important to us and continues to be important to us. So all in all, really good.”
Strasburg’s renewed emphasis on halting the running game was on full display Thursday when he did his part to keep the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos close to first base in the top of the third, then was quick to the plate with a pitch on which Castellanos took off. That gave catcher Wilson Ramos ample time to throw Castellanos out.
“It’s not gonna happen like that every time,” Strasburg said. “But the biggest thing is not letting them get to second, or making it harder for them to get there. It’s amazing how it affects the game and how it affects the next pitch and the results.”
These are the little things Strasburg has been trying to perfect all spring, and as the regular season draws near, it’s not hard to see what a difference they could make for the right-hander and his team.
Williams officially named Strasburg his Opening Day starter Wednesday night, an announcement that surely didn’t take anyone by surprise but was notable nonetheless considering the 19-win season Zimmermann just produced.
For his part, Strasburg on Thursday downplayed the significance of his Opening Day assignment.
“I’ve said this before: I hope my career isn’t just reflected on how many Opening Day starts I have,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of guys in this rotation that deserve it, and I’m just the first one out. I think every game is going to be just as important. The biggest goal as a team is that we’re playing in the playoffs. I definitely would want to focus on making starts in the playoffs more so than an Opening Day start.”
If the entire Nationals rotation can translate the success they’ve enjoyed this spring into the season, Strasburg might very well get that opportunity.
NL EAST STANDINGS
FRI: Giants at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Giants at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Giants at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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