[ed. note - "So, this was probably better suited for Sunday night, Monday, but I had to drive home from D.C. after the game and was busy yesterday. But still, it's Strasburg stuff."]
Through three starts, 24-year-old Washington Nationals' ace Stephen Strasburg is (1-2) with a 2.95 ERA, 3.09 FIP, five walks (2.45 BB/9) and 15 Ks (7.36 K/9) in 18.1 IP. In his third start, on Saturday in Nationals Park against the Atlanta Braves, the '09 no.1 overall pick threw 112 pitches in 6.0 IP, giving up five hits, a walk and two runs, both unearned, since they both came on a home run that followed an inning-extending error by Nats' third baseman Ryan Zimmerman which brought Braves' slugger Evan Gattis up with a runner on. Gattis absolutely crushed a high, 96 mph 1-1 fastball from Strasburg and hit a no-doubter out to left that provided all the runs Atlanta would need to take their second straight on the road in D.C.
In discussing Strasburg's outing after the game, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said his no.1 starter is still not completely there early in the season. "He was throwing good," the manager explained, "He just didn't have much command. It basically seems to be running through our staff. A little bit of command problems. He pitched well enough, you just have to tip your hat to [Tim] Hudson, he pitched a heck of a ballgame."
Hudson faced the Nationals for the 27th time in his career, improving to (15-5 vs the franchise) with a seven inning outing in which he threw just 90 pitches and gave up just four hits and one run on a solo home run by Nats' second baseman Danny Espinosa. "He's really got good command of both sides," Johnson explained, "Great offspeed stuff, located very well. Pitched a heck of a ballgame, low pitch count, just kept us off balance."
Strasburg struggled with his command early, but told reporters including MLB.com's Adam Simon after the game that he felt more comfortable with his stuff as the game went on:
"'I think [the offspeed stuff] got more consistent there in the end,' Strasburg said. 'I wanted to go out there and try to go deep in the ballgame, but unfortunately I threw a lot of pitches early, so that kind of spoiled that. But at least I was able to go out and give six.'"
The Nats' manager was confident enough in his starter on Saturday that he sent Strasburg back out for the sixth in spite of the fact that his pitch count had already climbed to 95 after five innings. "He's my horse," Johnson said, "I needed to give him every chance to win that ballgame. I let him hit in the fifth. I wanted him to give us a good opportunity to win the game."
"That's what you do with your guys," Johnson said, "He pitched a decent ballgame, made one bad pitch to Gattis, but other than that -- I mean, [Gattis] hit a good pitch, the ball was shoulder high."
"'The guy’s up there hacking,'" Strasburg told reporters, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien, after Gattis took him deep in the Braves' 3-1 win:
"'I threw one at his neck, and he tomahawks it out. You don’t really face a guy like that ever. You don’t really have any book to go off of.'"
Compounding the frustration in that at bat, after the two-out error by Zimmerman extended the third, was the fact that Strasburg almost picked Justin Upton off after the Braves' outfielder was gifted first base on Zimmerman's errant throw. Upton had enough of a jump, however, that he was able to beat Adam LaRoche's throw to second after Strasburg initially threw to first. The two-run Gattis' home run followed the stolen base.
As Johnson explained it, teams continue to time Strasburg's delivery and get good jumps on the righty, an issue that Nationals and the pitcher are aware of and have taken steps to address. "[Upton] broke early," the Nationals' manager said, "We were yelling, 'Step off!' and [Strasburg] threw over [to first]. [Upton] was just timing [Strasburg's] pitch to the plate. They have a tendency to do that with Stras. He's real quick, but, it's somewhat more of a [timing] play with the runner, so that's something we've been looking at, we've been addressing. We've got a few other ideas."
In spite of the loss on Saturday, Strasburg was one of several Nationals who told reporters he didn't necessarily think the Braves made any sort of statement in the series. "'Honestly, I think our lineup is better,'" Strasburg told the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, "'They’re hot right now. It’s early.'" The Nationals' manager said the same after the Nationals were swept in the three-game weekend set. "We're not quite where we need to be: bullpen, pitching, the whole nine yards," Johnson said, "It's a whole lot of battles to win this war. And one series doesn't -- it's sometimes just a wakeup call."