WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg gave up a homer to the first batter he faced Friday night and then struggled to find the strike zone throughout the opening inning.
And that's when the kid told himself it was time to change things up a little, time to start throwing the pitches he wants to throw.
Recovering quickly from a mediocre start, Strasburg shut down San Francisco the rest of the way, allowing three hits in six innings, and Adam Dunn homered twice, leading the Washington Nationals past the Giants 8-1.
Before an announced crowd of 34,723, almost exactly double the 17,364 of a night earlier, Strasburg tried to put a 97 mph fastball past leadoff hitter Andres Torres on a 3-1 count. Torres drove the pitch off the facing of the second deck in right, giving him a homer in three consecutive games and four of the past six.
The next three batters also made solid contact, each lining the ball to an outfielder, and Strasburg needed 17 pitches to get out of the first, including nine balls.
"After that, I was like, 'You know what? Bottom line, if they're going to beat me, they're going to beat me [with] me calling my own game,'" said Strasburg, who turns 22 on July 20. "I was just putting it all on my shoulders, and I have to do that from now on."
Frequently clocked at 99 mph on the outfield scoreboard and mixing in knee-buckling breaking balls, Strasburg (3-2, 2.32 ERA) finished with eight strikeouts and one walk. The No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft departed in style, striking out Pat Burrell swinging on a 98 mph fastball to end the sixth and then collecting handshakes and high-fives in the dugout.
"It's part of the learning process. In college, I didn't really have any say in what pitches were thrown. It was all [called] by the coach," Strasburg said. "That's one thing I've lacked in my game, was the ability to learn as the game went on and really think out there. I was more throwing whatever they called, and now I'm starting to figure things out."
That could be bad news for opposing batters.
As Burrell put it: "He throws hard, and he's got -- like we knew -- three above-average pitches."
Still, this was Strasburg's first win in nearly a month.
That's because after the "He did what?!" beginning to Strasburg's stay in Washington -- 2-0, 2.19 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings in his first two starts, on June 8 and 13 -- he went 0-2 over his next four appearances. One problem: Entering Friday, the Nationals scored one run for Strasburg over the previous 25 innings he was in the game -- and zero over his past 18.
They took care of that against Matt Cain (6-8), who has lost four consecutive decisions. He allowed eight runs -- seven earned -- and 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings, including Dunn's solo shot into the second deck in right in the fourth inning and two-run homer to center in the seventh.
Those gave Dunn 22 homers this season, five in the past three games, and he was pleased to back Strasburg.
"He's kept us in every single ballgame, even the games that we've lost. Offensively we could have picked him up, and we didn't," Dunn said. "I've said this from Day 1 -- I shouldn't say 'always,' but so far and in the future, he's going to give us a pretty good chance to win every day."
Actually, thanks to Torres' second leadoff homer of 2010, Washington trailed before ending San Francisco's four-game winning streak. The Nationals have allowed a first-inning run in nine consecutive games.
But by the second, Strasburg was back to his hard-to-figure-out self, getting two strikeouts on nasty breaking balls and throwing 11 of 13 pitches for strikes. He struck out two more in the third, including Torres to end the inning. The usually straight-faced Strasburg hopped off the mound and muttered something -- no doubt pleased to have solved Torres this time.
"Maybe he was excited," said Wil Nieves, who caught Strasburg for the first time in the rookie's seven major league starts. "Probably he said something to himself. I think that you got to have that sometimes, that fire inside of you. ... Get mad on the mound and just be aggressive."
After the game, Strasburg sounded like a guy ready to do precisely that, saying he needs to throw more inside fastballs to get hitters to back off the plate.
That, Strasburg said, will help him improve.
"For a young kid, he's got great stuff. He is one of the better pitchers already. He throws 99 with good secondary pitches, holds runners," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "They've got a special kid there."
Strasburg threw 95 pitches, 61 for strikes. ... Before the game, manager Jim Riggleman said Strasburg will start Washington's first game after the All-Star break, July 16 at Florida, and then take his regular turn in the rotation until reaching the team-imposed limit of 160 innings this season. After Friday's start, Strasburg is up to 98 innings in 2010, including the minors. ... Nationals left fielder Willie Harris had three hits. ... Giants infielder Juan Uribe was out of the starting lineup for a fourth consecutive game because of a sprained left ring finger.