The Washington Times - August 22, 2012, 02:13AM

Stephen Strasburg was exceptional Tuesday night. How exceptional? Martin Prado, one of the Braves’ best hitters, was so baffled by a curveball that he literally backed away from the box as it arrived, only to watch it for Strike 3. And he wasn’t alone.

“When he throws that curveball like that, I mean, that’s a whole new dimension,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “And his changeup is really a strikeout pitch — that and the fastball.


“I mean you don’t see big league hitters very often pull back. You saw that several times tonight. That’s how electric his stuff was. If I’d have hooked him after five, after he punched out the side, I think the whole stadium would have been wanting to string me up.”

So just how did Strasburg strike out 10 hitters — including six of the first eight he faced after a 51-minute rain delay?

Strasburg pitched off his fastball but mixed his pitches effortlessly. He used his four-seam fastball 45 times, his two-seamer on 19 occasions, threw 22 curveballs and eight changeups. 

“I thought my breaking ball was working better [than the changeup], to be honest,” he said. “I went to that a little bit more than I have my changeup. That was a big thing that I’ve been able to start throwing more for strikes early. Whenever I try and do too much with my changeup or finesse it up there, it gets hit. So I wanted to keep that in my back pocket and really work off fastball, sinker, curveball.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, with a fastball that averaged 96.2 mph, Strasburg got 10 swings-and-misses on fastballs, the second-most he’s gotten in any game this season.

That velocity was also his highest average in more than two months and in the seven starts he’s had this season in which his fastball averaged at least 96 mph, Strasburg is 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA. 

And that increased speed also makes Strasburg’s changeup, a pitch that generally comes in around 90-91 mph, more difficult to pick up and, of course, hit. Strasburg recorded a strikeout with four of the eight changeups he threw Tuesday night. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Braves swung at Strasburg’s changeup five times — all of them pitches out of the zone — and failed to make contact even once. 

Of the 94 pitches he threw, 61 were strikes.

“It’s fun to catch a pitcher who, whatever you put down he’s going to throw for a strike,” said catcher Jesus Flores. “Tonight his changeup and curve ball was great and his fastball’s always been good.

“It’s just, the changeup he throws harder than anybody else. … It’s a pitch that’s hard to figure out how to hit. No shot.”

“It’s a dominant pitch,” Johnson said. “All of them are dominant. He can pitch with one of them. He’s learning how to really pitch with his fastball. He’s been too fine with the fastball.”

His maturation and learning process continued on Tuesday.

“He likes the catcher more on the corner, not off the corner, where as a lot of pitchers like ‘em off,” Johnson added. “He knows what he wants to do, he’s had enough experience up here against good-hitting ballclubs and he knows exactly the sequence he wants to go in and where he wants to go with it. He was throwing hard but he was not overthrowing and when he stays down on the knees and moves it in and out with the curveball and changeup, the changeup’s 10 times tougher when he’s getting his strikes on the knees.”