Stephen Strasburg looked almost embarrassed by the situation in which he had put himself.
He hasn’t done anything on or off the field to deserve much criticism, of course. In fact, he’s been so good this season, you could even call him perfect. That’s the problem.
Strasburg became the first pitcher since Dave McNally in 1969 to enter the All-Star break undefeated with at least 10 wins after earning his 12th victory of the season Friday night at Citi Field. He’s also just the seventh pitcher to start the season 12-0 — the most recent being Nationals teammate Max Scherzer, who started 13-0 in 2013 but lost before the All-Star break.
The 27-year-old former No. 1 overall pick held the Mets — who had been averaging more than seven runs a game in July — to one run and two hits in seven innings, striking out nine.
But after Washington’s 3-1 win, Strasburg didn’t want to take credit for his record. He’s not only willing to share the accolades, he’s forcing them on his teammates.
“It shows how good they swing on days I pitch, I guess,” Strasburg said about Washington’s offense. “I’m just trying to do my part, keep it close and give the guys an opportunity to win.”
He not only has given them a chance to win, he has made it hard to lose. Strasburg has a 2.62 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 132 strikeouts in 106 2⁄3 innings. Washington is 15-1 in his 16 starts.
And Washington’s offense appreciates Strasburg’s production.
“We know every time he has the ball that he has a really good chance of going out there and not giving up a lot of runs,” said first baseman Clint Robinson, who had a two-run home run off Noah Syndergaard Friday, “so it takes the pressure off us to think we need to score a lot of runs for him.”
Dusty Baker, in his 21st year as a major-league manager and his first with the Nationals, said he had heard that Strasburg was the type of pitcher who easily got rattled by surrendering walks or key hits or when defensive mistakes were made behind him. Baker no longer has that impression. Instead, he views him as a leader and calming presence on the mound.
“That’s what aces do,” Baker said. “He’s matured big-time. Aces don’t depend on the bullpen or someone else to do their job, and that’s his 12th win because of it.”
Strasburg tossed 108 pitches against the Mets, his final four coming in at 96, 97, 95 and 95 mph. Baker pushed Strasburg further in Friday night’s game, even though it was only his second start since coming off the disabled list with an upper-back strain.
But you’ll rarely see Strasburg get too high or low emotionally on the mound. He remains even keel and focused.
“Pretty much what you see on the mound is what you see in the locker room,” Robinson said. “He’s very calm, kind of a quiet keep-to-himself kind of guy. He’s more social in here than he is on the mound but he’s not bouncing around and smiling and whatnot.”
Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175-million extension in May and hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 9. He was named to the All-Star team, but he and the Nationals made a joint decision — Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo gave input to Strasburg, who had the final call — that he won’t be pitching in his hometown of San Diego because of that trip to the disabled list.
Despite not being able to throw in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, he’s had one of the strongest first halves of a season for a starting pitcher in the last half century. And although Strasburg’s proud of his accomplishment, he’s already looking ahead toward bigger goals. Not individual goals; that wouldn’t be his way. Only team accomplishments. And he’s approaching those goals with the same mindset.
“I mean, it’s definitely a great feeling,” he said, “but I feel like, just going off last year, the biggest thing to learn is just go one day at a time. When it’s October, get ready for the next one,” he said. “Just trying to stay in the moment.”