The Reemerging Ace

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Baseball is a funny game to write about. Conclusions can be drawn from every minute action, but almost none of them are warranted. Those who have pontificated on Washington’s 3-0 start, or the Nationals ensuing ebbs or flows that have rendered them anywhere from five games over .500 (7-2) to a game under the break-even mark (13-14) since then have probably overreacted in both directions. As Davey Johnson loves to say, you’re never as good as you look when you win and never as bad as you look when you lose.

To that end, many of those who cover this game – and especially the Nationals – from afar were quick to jump to the conclusion this season that Stephen Strasburg was no longer the ace of Washington’s talented rotation. Never mind the fact that neither Strasburg nor the Nationals ever held him on such a pedestal above the rest of the staff. And certainly not to take anything away from Jordan Zimmermann, who has been arguably the most consistent starter in the game for the first two months of the season, but Strasburg’s dominance has slowly reemerged atop the rotation.

Strasburg has been a man on a mission since his return home to San Diego.

Strasburg has been a man on a mission since his return home to San Diego.

Ever since pitching in his hometown of San Diego two weeks ago, Strasburg has looked like a different pitcher on the mound. He tossed a career-long eight innings in that start, matching that workload again in front of 39,033 at Nationals Park on Sunday. Over his last four outings, the righty has allowed just three earned runs on 18 hits and eight walks in 28 innings (good for a 0.96 ERA) while fanning 27.

Only three times in his excellent 2012 campaign did Strasburg work seven full frames with nine or more strikeouts and no walks, in a loss April 28 at Los Angeles and in wins over the Braves on June 2 in D.C. and over the Mets July 25 in New York.

“It’s all about making adjustments,” said Strasburg of his game. “I didn’t start the year where I wanted to be, but all that matters is how you finish.”

Teammate Ian Desmond thinks Strasburg may be better than ever before.

Teammate Ian Desmond thinks Strasburg may be better than ever before.

The Nationals are certainly hoping Strasburg’s return to elite form can help guide their own rise. To that end, after being shut out by Cole Hamels through six frames, the offense scored five runs in the seventh, the team’s highest single-inning output since September 24 of last year. If the Washington bats can heat up with the weather, and Strasburg’s newfound dominance continues, it could be a lethal combination for NL East opponents.

Ian Desmond, who has been in The District ever since Strasburg’s heralded arrival in 2010, spoke the most telling words about the rise of the Nationals ace.

“This is probably the best we’ve seen him since he got to the big leagues,” said Desmond, despite noting his early high-strikeout performances.

The staff as a whole has already posted the third-lowest ERA in the league this month at 3.10, its ever-improving ace leading the charge.

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