Facing a lineup that leads the Majors with a .280 team batting average, Strasburg encountered seven at-bats with runners in scoring position -- as many as he had faced in his first three starts combined. He also allowed as many baserunners (nine) as in his first three outings, and gave up five hits on 15 at-bats with runners on base compared to a 3-for-17 mark previously in those situations.
"I think I did well enough," Strasburg said of his approach with runners on, something he focused on during his stint in the Minor Leagues. "The whole goal out there as a pitcher is to keep your team in the ballgame."
Strasburg did that, holding the Royals to just one run in six innings and lowering his ERA to 1.78. But that one run allowed came on three consecutive two-out singles in the fifth inning. In fact, seven of the nine hits he allowed -- which nearly doubled his previous season total of 10 -- came with two outs.
"You've got to give them credit," Strasburg said of the feisty Kansas City bats. "They weren't going to give in. They wanted to put the ball in play. I wouldn't necessarily say that they were sitting dead-red on it, but they just hit in the spots, just found holes."
In that fifth inning, Strasburg got ahead, 0-2, on the Royals' Nos. 4 and 5 hitters -- Billy Butler and Jose Guillen -- and continued throwing strikes to each of them instead of trying to induce a swing and miss on a pitch out of the zone. To Butler, he threw an 82-mph curveball over the outside corner that the Royals' first baseman tipped off the end of his bat into right field. Guillen fouled off a similar curveball before smacking a 96-mph fastball to right for the game's only RBI.
"I tried to elevate the ball instead of just trusting it and throwing it to [catcher] Pudge [Rodriguez's] glove," Strasburg said of Guillen's at-bat. "I kind of pushed it a little bit, and it ended up causing me to do the opposite. It wasn't a bad pitch, but he was on it."
Strasburg maintained that his approach in those at-bats -- as well as similar situations in the second and third inning -- was the right one.
"[I was trying to] make good pitches," he said. "They just fought it off and found holes. Butler hit that off the end of his bat, it's a matter of inches and he would've missed it. You've got to tip your cap to him. He stayed on it and poked it to right."
Manager Jim Riggleman agreed that Strasburg was right to continue to attack the strike zone in those situations.
"He really throws such quality strikes that that's not an issue at this point," Riggleman said.
Most times, it got Strasburg a crucial K, as he threw 75 of his 95 pitches for strikes and broke the record for most punchouts (41) through the first four games to start an MLB career, besting Herb Score's mark of 40 set in 1955.
"We kind of overlook sometimes how good the opposition is," Riggleman said. "With those things not going well for Stephen and still [one run] is all he gave up, that's a pretty special effort."