Strickland turns in dominant relief outing

Postseason struggles seem far away as righty shuts down Nationals

Strickland turns in dominant relief outing

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Hunter Strickland took the mound for the first time this season in a Giants uniform on May 23, memories of his 2014 postseason performance were in the rear-view mirror.

As the Giants relief pitcher cruised through two innings without allowing a baserunner in San Francisco's 3-1 win over the Nationals Thursday at AT&T Park, those memories seemed so far in the distance, they were virtually non-existent.

Strickland retired all six hitters he faced in relief of starter Ryan Vogelsong on 18 pitches, 16 of which caught the strike zone. He finished with three strikeouts, two groundouts and a flyout on a night where he simply overpowered the Nationals.

"He was pretty awesome tonight," Vogelsong said of Strickland. The 26-year-old right-hander lowered his ERA to 1.57 on the season and he's allowed just one run to cross the plate since June 23.

Strickland has relied on his fastball to get batters out in his one-plus Major League seasons, but he hasn't always been able to get away with it. During the Giants' playoff run last season, he surrendered six home runs in 8 1/3 innings.

Last season Strickland was a "thrower." This year, he's learned how to pitch, mixing speeds and controlling a curveball that complements his fastball well.

"He's more of a pitcher now than he was last year," Bochy said.

Strickland's comments were in line with his skipper's.

"Last year I was more of a power pitcher," Strickland said. "I guess I still am a power pitcher, but you still have to mix it up, get your locations a little bit better and try to keep [hitters] off balance."

Strickland's fastball can touch 100 miles per hour, but his transformation into a multi-dimensional arm has stemmed, in part, from taking a bit off his heater. The pitch that sat around 98 mph last year is coming in closer to 96 mph this season, according to FanGraphs.

The change has allowed Strickland to become a more versatile piece of Bochy's bullpen.

"We wanted to have some options with him and make him available for a couple innings," Bochy said. "It was critical tonight."

Strickland's adjustments have resulted in more success on the mound and a more dangerous weapon for Bochy to use in relief. They have also put to rest any concerns that still lingered from last year's postseason.

"This game, you have to have a short memory," Strickland said. "You're going to get beat sometimes and you're going to win sometimes. Hopefully, more times you win."

Oliver Macklin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.