PITTSBURGH -- What's the definition of the word "dominance"? Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander was almost unhittable as the Nationals defeated the Pirates, 4-2, at PNC Park on Thursday night.
In his six innings on the mound, Strasburg struck out 13 batters and walked three. At one point, he struck out seven straight hitters, which tied a franchise record.
"He was unbelievable. He was overpowering," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He had everything working."
Said Strasburg about striking out seven in a row, "I don't really think about it too much when I'm out there. I just go out there and try to execute pitches. It's one of those days, I guess."
Strasburg also struck out seven consecutive hitters against the Pirates during his Major League debut on June 8, 2010, a game in which he fanned 14 in seven innings.
"To the analytical eye, he throws his four-seam fastball up to 97 [mph], the two-seamer 91-93 with late life, he has absolute confidence in the breaking ball, and a changeup," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "His arm is fresh. Good composure. Pounded the zone. He's legit. That's a good arm, and the kid has a good head to work with. His progress in a short period is something."
There was a point in Thursday's game where it looked like Strasburg may lose his first game of the season. Strasburg was behind, 2-0, after four innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Andrew McCutchen singled to right field. Jose Tabata scored easily, but right fielder Bryce Harper made a wild throw to the plate and allowed McCutchen to advance to second. It was Harper's first error of his big league career.
However, the error, according to Johnson, could have been avoided. Johnson said first baseman Adam LaRoche should have cut off the throw to prevent McCutchen from going to second base.
"I don't blame Harper coming up and throwing," Johnson said. "That's a play LaRoche should come back and become the cutoff man."
Two batters later, McCutchen scored on a single by Neil Walker.
It seemed like an insurmountable lead, for the Nationals have had a tough time scoring runs this season.
"You get down a couple of runs early, and I think that starts to creep in. Don't let this be another one of these nights," LaRoche said.
But the Nationals would give Strasburg the lead in the sixth inning off right-hander Kevin Correia. Roger Bernadina led off with a home run over the center-field wall.
"That was a big jump-start. ... That was the blow that we needed, because it got us pumped up a little bit," LaRoche said.
After Ryan Zimmerman drew a walk, LaRoche took an 0-1 pitch and hit the ball over the center-field wall for his sixth home run of the season, and second in the series.
The Pirates had a chance to at least tie the score in the bottom of the sixth inning. After getting two quick outs, Strasburg couldn't find the strike zone, walking the next three hitters he faced. Garrett Jones came to the plate and worked the count to 2-2 before Strasburg struck him out on a four-seam fastball to end the threat.
"I was going to challenge him. I wasn't going to walk him, and walk in a run to tie it up. I was going to make him beat me," Strasburg said.
Asked to compare his two outings against the Pirates, Strasburg said. "I walked three batters [in Thursday's game]. It's tough. I felt pretty good, but I think I'm going to learn a lot more from this one. I gave up a couple of runs. I left bad pitches up in the zone.
"That last inning I kind of nibbled a little bit and tried to throw the perfect pitch. Having to find a way to get the last out with the bases loaded, it's a learning experience. I just have to remember to go out there and pitch to contact."
Right-hander Chris Resop was on the mound when Rick Ankiel added a solo homer in the ninth to close out the scoring.
With the victory, the Nationals snapped a three-game losing streak and improved their record to 19-12.
Strasburg declined to consider himself a stopper of the losing streak.
"You guys can put me in that role all you want, but I'm going to sit here and say that there are four other guys in the rotation that could do it, too. We have Gio [Gonzalez] going tomorrow, and that is going to be huge, especially coming off this well-fought ballgame, [trying to take] the first one tomorrow."
The win comes a few hours after Johnson had a team meeting. Johnson told his players that he was not in a panic mode and that he still believed in them. Johnson proved it by not making massive changes to the lineup.
The meeting came after the Nationals left 10 runners on base and had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the final two innings of a 4-2 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said he was pleased that Johnson didn't panic after losing three straight games.
"We are not playing bad," Desmond said. "There is no reason for drastic changes. We are getting guys on base, we are just not driving them in. That is a problem that every single team, from top to bottom, is going to have throughout this year. No doubt about it. The Rangers are not going to drive in 10 runs every game. Matt Kemp is not going to hit .400 this year. There are ups and downs in every team's season."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.