Sunday evening as the sun was setting with the Capitol Dome in the background Stephen Strasburg was about to take the mound to start the ninth inning. The Washington Nationals‘ premier arm was getting his first chance to go nine innings and complete a game, his first in the Major Leagues. He set the Philadelphia Phillies down in order securing a 6-0 four hit shutout and getting to do something he wanted to do since he first put on the No. 37 Washington Nationals jersey, stand on the mound when the game was over.
Despite his 4-6 record there is no doubt that Strasburg is one on the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. The only reason that he is not having a winning record is because the Nationals offense has given him no run support at all this season.
His 2.24 ERA is 5th best in the National League and a personal best in his professional career. His 204 batting average against is 8th best in the NL and 12th best in all of baseball. The 1.04 Walks and Hits Per Innings pitched (WHIP) is 9th best in the NL and 14th best in baseball. His .573 OPS against (on-base plus slugging percentage) is 6th in the majors (best of career).
Here is the stat that to me shows how tough a year this has been for Strasburg: In 16 starts, 13 times this season that he had allowed two earned runs or less. Four times this season he has allowed not a single earned run. His 2.44 runs of support per game are a MLB worst and the main reason that Strasburg is not at least a 10 or 12 game winner.
Recently at a postgame press conference Nationals Manager Davey Johnson talked about Strasburg.
“He’s a professional,” Johnson said when asked how the continued lack of runs would affect Strasburg. “He has learned how to pitch out of a tough jam when things get out of hand. He has gotten very good at bowing his neck and keeping focus getting guys out. He has cut his pitch count down while still getting strikeouts so I think this season he has learned a great deal about pitching and the scary thing about Strass is that he is only going to get better.”
This might not be the season that either the Nationals or Strasburg thought it would be, but one thing is for sure: He is learning to be a better pitcher so next season both he and the team will return to being a contender.
Rant Sports columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc