WASHINGTON -- On the day he was activated off the disabled list, right-hander Stephen Strasburg was a man on a mission, as the Nationals downed the Rockies, 6-1, Saturday night at Nationals Park.
It was Strasburg's best outing of the season. He pitched seven innings, allowed one run on three hits and struck out a season-high 12 batters. The lone run came on Nolan Arenado's 27th homer of the season.
Strasburg's counterpart, right-hander Eddie Butler, allowed four runs in six innings. The Rockies trailed from the second inning, when Wilson Ramos hit a two-run double. With the victory, the Nationals gained a game in the National League East race, climbing to 1 1/2 games behind the Mets, who lost to the Rays, 5-4, at Tropicana Field.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Strasburg in the zone: Strasburg notched the 17th double-digit strikeout game of his career. He also also went 3-for-3 in his first career three-hit game to raise his batting average to .158. His most important pitches of the night came in the first inning. With a runner on third and one out, Strasburg managed to get Carlos Gonzalez to hit a dribbler for the second out of the inning. Arenado then struck out to end the threat.
"I was going out there making pitches, keep the tempo high and keep it close," Strasburg said. "You want to command all of your pitches, especially as a starter, work your fastball from both sides of the plate, work it up and down. Just be aggressive." More >
One for the road: Strasburg's mistakes could be counted on one hand, but Arenado made sure you could count one on the scoreboard, too. He hammered his home run into Colorado's bullpen, cutting Washington's lead to 4-1 in the fourth. In six career games at Nationals Park, Arenado is hitting .348 (8-for-23) with three home runs, three RBIs and five runs scored.
"He's been good all year," manager Walt Weiss said. "In the times when he's struggled, he hasn't stayed there very long. Just having a very good year. He's a good offensive player."
Nats come through in clutch: The Nationals went 4-for 12 with runners in scoring position. The biggest hit came from Ramos in the second, scoring Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond. Ryan Zimmerman also delivered with runners on, driving in two runs on two hits.
"For me, [the most important thing] is base hits with runners in scoring position. Willie hit a big one to right-center," Nationals manager Matt Williams said.
Butler outmatched: In front of several friends and family members, Butler tied his season high with six innings. The Virginia native walked four batters -- three of whom scored -- and allowed four runs and eight hits as he fell to 3-9 on the season. He did receive help from his defense, with the Rockies turning three of four double plays with Butler on the mound.
"I think the big thing is putting guys away when I get the chance," Butler said. "I know that I had a couple of opportunities early to put guys away to get out of some jams, and I wasn't able to. So, that's going to be the big step moving forward."
"I thought Stephen looked great. He attacked. He used his fastball on 0-2 counts. He was pounding the zone. He kept the ball down. It's the best I've seen him in a long time. Hopefully, this kind of bad luck he has been having -- hopefully, he will get rid of those [injuries] and be that guy for the next 2 1/2 months. That was special." -- Zimmerman, on Strasburg
"He didn't look like he was coming off the DL." -- Gonzalez, on Strasburg
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Strasburg's outing marked the fifth time in Nationals history that a pitcher struck out 12 batters without issuing a walk. He is also the first pitcher in franchise history to have 10 strikeouts and three hits in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
WHAT'S NEXT Rockies: Trying to win their first road series since May 29-31, the Rockies will throw Yohan Flande in the series finale on Sunday (11:35 a.m. MT). Flande is 2-1 with a 3.54 ERA. His last appearance was in the 11th inning of Wednesday's win over Seattle.
Nationals: The Nationals look to take the series Sunday when they face the Rockies at 1:35 p.m. ET. Right-hander Max Scherzer will get the start for Washington. Scherzer, who is known for attacking the strike zone, has walked three batters in each of his last two starts -- the first time he's done that this season. Scherzer is 4-5 with a 2.86 ERA in 10 home starts at Nationals Park.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.