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“All my other pitches are better than they were before,” Strasburg said.

But the curveball lagged behind, as is normal with pitchers rebuilding arm strength after Tommy John surgery. The pitch wasn’t sharp in the first inning Monday. But when Strasburg relaxed, the break tightened and, for a minute, you could imagine they were curveballs from before his right elbow exploded.

“I trusted the break,” Strasburg said, “rather than going out trying to throw the filthiest breaking ball ever.”

Long after Strasburg walked off the mound, he talked about how long he ices his shoulder and detailed exercises to keep his muscles “confused.” He was relaxed. Almost chatty, speaking with the assurance that his days of pitching in half-full stadiums are dwindling.