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Nationals have taken the wraps off Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals gave up

Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals gave up one run on four hits in seven innings against the Mets at Citi Field. He struck out 11. (July 25, 2012) Credit: Getty

WASHINGTON -- Having moved from Washington to Atlanta as a broadcast analyst in 2009, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton missed Stephen Strasburg's arrival in D.C. by several months. But he knew the Nationals were drafting a top-of-the-rotation starter who didn't need a lot of prep time after going 13-1 in his final season in college.

"All he's done is fine-tune the Rolls-Royce," Sutton said, "and I'm just sorry I couldn't buy 100 shares of stock in him when he got here.

"I thought he was a pitcher with a very simple delivery, impressive stuff and a demeanor on the mound that was very good. He wasn't 'Harry Hotdog' in college [at San Diego State]. I just appreciated that he was a gifted young athlete."

Matt Harvey and the Mets face Strasburg tonight for the first time in 2013. Strasburg is 2-0, 1.50 in his career against the Mets, both of those wins coming last season at Citi Field, where he struck out 20 and walked three in 13 innings.

But the Mets might be fortunate to be seeing a pitcher who still is trying to find his groove. After blanking the Marlins for seven innings on Opening Day, Strasburg has lost starts against Cincinnati and Atlanta and is 1-2 despite a 2.95 ERA.

Coming off Tommy John surgery, Strasburg, 24, went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA last season. One thing Strasburg has never done in the majors is pitch more than seven innings in a game.

Attempting to protect one of his treasures, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo stuck to his controversial decision to shut Strasburg down after 1591/3 innings last season. This year, there's little reason to hold him back.

Although he entered the season averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings and his velocity (95-97 on his four-seam fastball) has not diminished since surgery, Strasburg seems less of a strikeout pitcher these days. He struck out 197 last year, but even in setting down 19 consecutive Marlins on Opening Day, he fanned just three, mixing his four pitches, relying on ground-ball outs and keeping fly balls in the park.

"That's maturity. That's pitching," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The guy has gotten better with experience. He doesn't have to punch out 18."

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