The definition of an ace is a pitcher who can stop a losing streak. Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg did that for the second time this year with a 13-strikeout performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. In his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, the Nats couldn't have asked for a better start for Strasburg (3-0). He already has thrown 44 innings with every start lasting at least six. He has 51 strikeouts and just 10 walks and entered Saturday ranked eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.10) and third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.43). Strasburg's ERA is 1.64. Those are Cy Young caliber numbers through seven starts.
But that brings back questions about Washington's strategy for shutting Strasburg down after about 160 innings to preserve his long-term health. That would get the Nats until late August before Strasburg reached his innings limit. Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has said he wants to play no games with Strasburg's schedule so there won't be any skipped starts. But even just a minor tweak like starting him fifth after the All-Star break and extending the limit up to 170 or so would get Washington into mid-September and legitimize a Cy Young argument. It's a good problem to have.
- Brian McNally
1 A series to remember » The Baltimore Orioles probably don't want to see Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton again any time soon. During the teams' four-game series this week, Hamilton went 8-for-17 (.471 batting average) and had six homers -- including a record-tying four Tuesday -- and 12 RBI in 17 at-bats. In comparison, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano combined to hit six home runs in their first 389 at-bats this season. Hamilton finished Saturday with a .402 batting average, 18 home runs and 41 RBI, leading the American League in every Triple Crown category.
2 Not a good reception » Boston Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett got booed after allowing seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Indians on Thursday night. It didn't help that Beckett was golfing last week after he was scratched from his scheduled start with a sore back. And Beckett's nonchalant response to the media during postgame interviews won't help Beckett's future reception at Fenway Park, either. During Beckett's seven seasons with the Red Sox, he has struggled during even years and is continuing the trend with a 2-4 record and 5.97 ERA to start the 2012 season.
3 Not seeing results » Despite an NL-best 1.02 ERA, Chicago Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster has yet to record his first victory of the season. Not only has Dempster (0-1) not earned a win, but the Cubs have lost each of his five starts. Chicago has scored just eight runs in those five contests. His lone defeat came in the only game this season in which he allowed more than one earned run -- he let up two runs in 6 2/3 innings in a defeat to the Brewers on April 11. Since then, Dempster has allowed one earned run and struck out 21 batters in his last 21 innings pitched.
- Jeffrey Tomik
1. J.J. Hardy » The Orioles' shortstop hit four home runs during a four-game span last week.
2. Carlos Beltran » The Cardinals slugger had five homers and 12 RBI in a four-game span this week.
3. CC Sabathia » In his last two starts, the Yankees ace is 2-0 with 15 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA.
1. David Robertson » He allowed four earned runs in his second save opportunity of the year for the Yankees.
2. Bartolo Colon » After a hot start, the A's righty has allowed 10 earned runs in his last two starts.
3. Albert Pujols » Hitting that first home run for the Angels has not resulted in a power surge.