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Nationals' Stephen Strasburg goes totally '80s, improves to 10-0

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg is all about the theme night.

On '80s Night at Nationals Park, Strasburg became the first National League pitcher to begin the season 10-0 since Astros reliever Juan Agosto did it in 1988. He’s the first NL starter to accomplish the feat since 1985, when San Diego’s Andy Hawkins got off to an 11-0 start, ESPN Stats & Information points out.

If 1980s cover band The Legwarmers -- who rocked out in the outfield concourse prior to the Washington Nationals' 9-6 victory Friday over the Philadelphia Phillies -- was the opening act, then Strasburg was the headliner. Just as he’s been all season long.

After exiting prematurely in his previous start in Cincinnati due to a calf cramp, Strasburg looked shaky early on, allowing four earned runs and five hits over the first three innings. It was just the fourth time in 17 career starts against Philly that he’s allowed more than two runs. Although Strasburg tied his season high for runs allowed in the first three frames alone, once he found his groove he was unhittable.

Following a two-run bomb by Phils first baseman Tommy Joseph in the third, Strasburg retired the final 14 batters he faced, whiffing half of them. On the night, he recorded 10 strikeouts, the seventh time in 13 starts this year that he’s tallied double-digit K's. His 110 punchouts on the season are tied for second in the majors behind some guy named Kershaw. But it’s the 10 W's that really stick out. Just how long will the right-hander's unblemished record last?

“There’s no sense thinking about the end,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Just keep it going.”

To put Strasburg’s throwback thriving in context, the last time an NL starter got off to a 10-0 start, back in 1985, the 66-year-old Baker was wearing an Oakland Athletics uniform ... as a player. It was so long ago that former Angels shortstop Dick Schofield, who’s the uncle of 37-year-old Nats outfielder Jayson Werth, was just a 22-year-old pup.

“No s---,” said Werth, when informed of Strasburg’s accomplishment. “That’s a long time. I mean, you would think ...”

Then the Nats elder statesman and resident philosopher trailed off, giving himself a moment to digest the history of it all. Even though it seems hard to believe that no NL starter has gone 10-0 in more than three decades, it’s the truth. In fact, only six National Leaguer starters have started a season 9-0 during that time. One of them was a certain Chicago Cubs Cy Young winner earlier this year. In other words, Strasburg is doing things that even Jake Arrieta hasn’t done. Of course, 10-0 doesn’t happen without a little bit of luck.

“I think there’s other guys in the rotation who’ve pitched well enough to win,” said Strasburg, whose averaging 6.85 runs of support per start, third-most in the NL behind Arrieta and Colorado's Jon Gray, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. “But it’s just about trying to go out there and do your job. They’ve been swinging the bat great for me, and I’m going to continue to try and keep it close for them.”

As he talked, Strasburg -- who inked a $175 million contract extension earlier this season -- even eked out a semblance of a grin, something the super-stoic starter has been doing more and more of lately. The recent change in demeanor is a subtle one, but one that’s hardly lost on his teammates.

“I think the extension has really done wonders for him,” said Werth. “You get some people in charge that love on you a little bit, it gives you a little room to breathe and relax. Him being relaxed has really allowed him to have some comfort and go out and just worry about pitching. He's really come out of his shell. Now, he can breathe and just relax and be himself. It’s pretty cool.”

Or as they used to say back in the '80s, totally rad.