Strasburg's fastball starting to come around

This may not be the dominant pre-surgery Stephen Strasburg that Washington Nationals fans flocked to see in his rookie season.

But in two of his past three starts, Strasburg has shown he can pitch like the ace it was thought he would become.

Strasburg snapped a streak of five straight road decisions lost in beating the New York Mets on Thursday night. Much like Doug Fister chopped the Mets' hitters up and limited hard contact in the series opener, Strasburg made things look pretty easy through seven innings in the series finale.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Nationals have won 11 straight games at Citi Field, the franchise’s longest road winning streak versus any opponent. Also of note, he has given up five hits or fewer in each of his six career starts against the Mets.

What worked best for Strasburg

Nationals manager Matt Williams said after the game that the key for Strasburg was to work down in the strike zone on both sides of the plate.

Stephen Strasburg

CabreraStrasburg did that through the first five innings, throwing 49 of 63 pitches in the lower half of the strike zone or below the knees.

The Mets managed a meager 2-for-16 with five strikeouts to that point and didn’t threaten much after Strasburg worked higher up in the zone the last two innings.

Save for his previous start against the Braves, in which he gave up three home runs with his heater, Strasburg’s fastball has hummed pretty well of late. In his three other starts since July 29, he has retired 43 hitters and allowed only nine hits and walks with that pitch.

The good days for Strasburg’s heater were few in the early part of the season. Even now, opponents are hitting .305 against the pitch this season, an average that ranks in the bottom 15 percent of those ERA-title qualifying pitchers.

Looking ahead

The good news for Strasburg is that Washington’s schedule is such that he should get a lot of starts at Nationals Park the rest of the season. His next two should come on a 10-game homestand, likely against the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants. That would mean he could have to make only one on a nine-game road trip, setting him up for two more home starts on the Nationals next home swing.

Strasburg is 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA at home this season, 2-8 with a 4.77 ERA away from Nationals Park.

He has been able to get away with more at home this season, allowing only seven home runs in 86 innings, compared to 11 homers in 77⅓ road innings.