Stras stressing out opponents at a new level

At 13-0, Nats hurler getting great support, but he's been stellar, especially since return from DL

Stras stressing out opponents at a new level

WASHINGTON -- An upper-back injury had robbed Stephen Strasburg of a pair of starts in June, so he wanted the ball to begin the second half. He even elected not to pitch in Tuesday night's All-Star Game presented by MasterCard -- even though it was in his hometown of San Diego -- in part because he had outings like Friday night in mind.

Strasburg began the second half as strongly as he closed the first, by holding the surging Pirates to one run in eight innings and leading the Nationals to a 5-1 victory at Nationals Park. It improved the righty's own unbeaten record to 13-0, making him the first National League starting pitcher to begin a season with 13 consecutive wins since 1912. A ball from the game sat in a case in his locker postgame, marked to celebrate an accomplishment that has been reached by only eight starting pitchers in Major League history.

"He's been outstanding and his record speaks for itself," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It seems like his focus and concentration, it seems like he's in the best shape of his life."

Strasburg becomes the first pitcher to begin a season at least 13-0 since his now teammate Max Scherzer did so for the Tigers in 2013. Since the Expansion Era (1969), only Dave McNally (15 straight in 1969), Ron Guidry (13 in 1978), Roger Clemens (14 in 1986) and Strasburg have won 13 consecutive decisions to open a season. Strasburg's personal winning streak extending back to last season is 16 games, the second-longest in D.C. baseball history behind right-hander Firpo Marberry, who won 17 consecutive games between 1930-31.

"The results, I can't control," Strasburg said. "I'm trying to go out there and execute pitches and roll with the highs and lows. It's always going to be that way. ... All that stuff is going to be what it's going to be, but as far as I control, I'm just trying to go out there and get better and help this team win some games."

The Nationals' offense has held up their end for Strasburg with an average of 6.41 runs per game in his starts, the fourth highest for any starter in baseball. But Strasburg is also pitching as well as he has in his career. His ERA dropped to 2.51 this season, which would set a new career low. He has 138 strikeouts with just 33 walks. On Friday, he scattered three hits and a pair of walks across eight innings with six strikeouts.

In three starts since he returned from the disabled list, he has allowed just two runs on five hits with 20 strikeouts and nine walks in 21 2/3 innings. As he left the mound in the eighth inning, he received a standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd of 36,982 fans at Nationals Park.

"He was fantastic. He's taking it to a new level now," first baseman Clint Robinson said. "Every time out he's got a chance to doing something special. Tonight was another example of it."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.