Nats' Strasburg turns in stellar performance with different approach to pitch selection

With all of the hullabaloo regarding whether Stephen Strasburg would start Game 4 of the NLDS for the Washington Nationals, people forgot one very important fact: Stephen Strasburg is a very good pitcher.

The right-hander continued his postseason dominance on Wednesday night, going seven innings with 12 strikeouts, three hits and no runs allowed in a 5-0 win to force a decisive Game 5. It was a pristine performance from Strasburg, who was battling an illness coming into his start.

Washington needed every out to stay in the game until Michael Taylor broke it open in the eighth inning with a two-out grand slam.

Strasburg dealt 106 pitches, and looked utterly dominant.

For the Cubs, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester tag-teamed to allow one run through seven innings. However, Taylor's slam made it a 5-0 game, and Strasburg exited after the homer.

Although his velocity dropped noticeably in his last two innings, with his fastball going from 95-96 mph to 92-93, the movement remained, and Cubs hitters were kept off balance. However, the story of the game wasn't in Strasburg's fastball. The Cubs were completely lost in regards to Strasburg's breaking pitches, the change-up in particular. Wednesday's start saw Strasburg looking as good off-speed as he has all season, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

PitchAmount thrownPercentage thrown

Four-seam fastball

49

46 percent

Change-up

32

30 percent

Curve

24

23 percent

Slider

1

<1 percent

Over the course of the season, Strasburg's spread looked completely different. Strasburg threw 52.1 percent fastballs, 22 percent curveballs, 19.3 percent change-ups and 6.3 percent sliders. The number that should jump off the page is the reliance on the change-up. Even if Strasburg's fastball wasn't completely overpowering, he jumped from about 20 percent change-ups on the season to 30 percent in Game 4. The ability to throw any pitch in any situation was pivotal against the Cubs hitters, and Matt Wieters, alongside manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux, seemed to know as much coming in.

Wrigley Field was a madhouse for Strasburg entering Wednesday night. He was mocked relentlessly by the entire stadium. Suffice it to say, no one is laughing at Strasburg anymore.

Adaptability is what sets good pitchers apart from great ones, and Strasburg showed Wednesday that being great is nowhere near out of the question for him. Even if he was sick, or wasn't feeling 100 percent, Strasburg turned his game around completely to turn in a stellar performance. He exited the game up 5-0, in prime position to get his first playoff win. Even though he was already impressive in the playoffs, Strasburg didn't have a win to show for it, until now.

Baker and Rizzo should also get some credit for the move. The decision was mocked on social media, but that's why Twitch Plays Baseball isn't a thing. Things changed after the game was postponed from Tuesday, and Baker reacted accordingly -- like good managers do. It was a risky decision, starting a sick pitcher on four days rest, but it paid dividends.

The next step for the Nationals will be to check the mold situation in every MLB ballpark. Then, pump the AC in the locker room, because apparently it makes Strasburg superhuman. The longevity may be the most impressive part. After Mike Rizzo said that Strasburg looked fatigued throwing bullpen on Monday, Strasburg not only went seven innings, but he also threw 106 pitches. For any pitcher in the postseason, that is exhausting.

Outside of the velocity drop, however, Strasburg never slowed down. The result? A deciding Game 5 back in Washington on Thursday, where Gio Gonzalez would likely get the nod for the Nationals in the biggest game of his career.

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