NEW YORK -- The pitching duel between right-hander Stephen Strasburg and left-hander Johan Santana was as advertised on Wednesday afternoon. Strasburg won the battle as the Nationals blanked the Mets, 4-0, at Citi Field.
Strasburg pitched six shutout innings, allowed two hits, struck out nine batters and walked three. He also threw a career-high 108 pitches. It marked the first time in his professional career Strasburg threw at least 100 pitches in a game.
"Everybody makes a bigger deal about that than us," pitching coach Steve McCatty said about Strasburg throwing over 100 pitches. "I still felt he threw pretty well after he threw over 100, didn't he? I wasn't really concerned about that."
To manager Davey Johnson, the outing meant that Strasburg is one of the guys. The days of babying that right arm are over. However, Strasburg remains on an innings limit after having Tommy Johns surgery in September 2010. Strasburg is expected to throw 160 innings this year.
"I'm going to handle him just like he is perfectly healthy," Johnson said. "There was plenty left in the tank there.
"I probably had to strangle him to get ahold of the ball and get it out of his hands," Johnson continued, jokingly. "I didn't want to fight him on the mound."
The only time Strasburg was in any serious trouble was in the first inning, and he was rattled, in part, because he felt he was squeezed by home-plate umpire Larry Vanover. So rattled was Strasburg, according to Johnson, that he and catcher Jesus Flores were not on the same page in terms of pitch selection.
"Stras pitched a heck of a ballgame -- no doubt about it," Johnson said. "I was really concerned early, because he was pitching kind of backwards. He was using a lot of back-to-back changeups, curveballs, even cutting his fastball. We had a couple of little discussions. He didn't want to throw what Flo was calling, but he got straightened out in the third inning. He started pitching like we know he can.
"[Strasburg] is such an intense competitor. He doesn't want anyone jumping on his fastball, so he tries to get them off it a little bit, and he doesn't need to. That's just being a young, competitive pitcher."
Flores said Strasburg couldn't command his pitches in the first two innings.
"The umpire had a tight strike zone," Flores said. "After talking to Stephen, he calmed down, and had better focus and command of his pitches --- setting up his fastball. That's what we worked on."
Strasburg prevented the Mets from scoring in the first inning. New York had runners on second and third with one out, but Ike Davis struck out looking and Jason Bay grounded out to shortstop Ian Desmond to end the inning.
After that, Strasburg was dominating. At one point, he retired 12 out of 13 hitters, with seven strikeouts.
"It's just settling in. I think the big thing I was able to do today was make the adjustment," Strasburg said. "It took a little bit longer than I had hoped. ... Once I found it, everything started to click."
Bay came away impressed with what he saw from Strasburg.
"He's good. I think everybody knew that before today," Bay said. "He's one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he's got great stuff. His ability to generate outs when he's behind in the count I think makes him very effective."
Santana, who is making a remarkable comeback from shoulder surgery, was just as good, lasting five-plus innings and allowing one run on five hits. He struck out eight hitters and walked three.
The lone run off Santana scored in the second inning, when the lefty threw a wild pitch, allowing Mark DeRosa to score from third. After the game, Strasburg was impressed by his counterpart's performance.
"It was awesome [watching Santana]. He made me look stupid with that changeup, that's for sure," said Strasburg, who struck out twice against Santana. "He is pitching regardless of what you think he is going to do out there. It was the complete opposite. It's impressive, not only what he did today, but just to be able to come back from all those injuries and stuff, and still have the command and everything."
Santana was out of the game when Washington scored its second run, in the top of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and reliever Ramon Ramirez on the mound, DeRosa walked, sending Desmond home. The run was charged to Manny Acosta.
The Nationals scored their third run of the game in the eighth inning, when Xavier Nady scored on a Chad Tracy groundout, and plated their final run when Flores walked with the bases loaded in the ninth, the 10th walk issued by Mets pitchers on the day.
After Strasburg left the game, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez blanked the Mets the rest of the way and helped the Nationals improve their record to 4-2 on the season, good for a tie for first with the Mets in the National League East heading into Thursday's 1:05 p.m. ET home opener at Nationals Park against the Reds.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.