Four starts into his "restriction-free" 2013 campaign, Washington Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg was (1-3) with a 2.96 ERA, 3.88 FIP, seven walks (2.59 BB/9) and 21 Ks (7.77 K/9) in 24.1 IP before this afternoon's start against the St. Louis Cardinals. The 24-year-old right-hander was coming off a six-inning outing in Citi Field in New York last week in which he gave up five hits, two home runs and 4 runs total, only two of them earned.
As Nationals' manager Davey Johnson explained again this morning, the Nats' no.1 starter is still a work in progress.
"He's throwing the ball alright," Johnson told reporters before the game, "But he's a perfectionist. He sometimes gets upset when he doesn't execute his pitches. I think he's kind of -- I think with all the expectations [for] this ballclub, some guys have tried to dial it up a notch and be a little more fine and when they throw a breaking ball, snap it off the table, make it perfect, and he doesn't need to do that."
"I told him, 'Trust your stuff,'" Johnson continued, "'Go out there and mix your pitches up. Use different pitches to set up other pitches instead of just trying to be perfect all the time." When Johnson's managed Strasburg in the past, back to the time both of them spent in the Olympics with Team USA, he said the right-hander relied more on command, but when he came up to the majors and started piling up Ks he changed. "[He went] away from contact," Johnson said, "But when he gets back to attacking hitters and going right after them with good location, he's nasty. But his stuff was always pretty consistent. It's just his command when he tries to do too much."
Strasburg's fifth start of 2013 began with a bloop double to left by Matt Carpenter. Strasburg got Allen Craig to chase a full-count change out of the zone for out and K no.1 of the series finale with the Cards. Matt Holliday went with a 95 mph 0-1 fastball outside and punched it to right for a one-out single that moved Carpenter to third. A one-out walk to Carlos Beltran loaded the bases in front of Yadier Molina and Strasburg fell behind the Cards' catcher before giving up an opposite field single to right that brought two runs in and made it 2-0 Cardinals early in the nation's capital. The third run of the game scored on a grounder to third by Daniel Descalso in the next at bat, and Anthony Rendon threw high to second on the play and was charged with an error when Danny Espinosa left the bag and failed to get the force. 3-0 Cards. Rendon started a 5-3 DP in the next AB, however, and Strasburg was through the top of the first after 26 pitches.
The Nationals, as a team, entered today's game against Cardinals' left-hander Jaime Garcia with a .252/.324/.412 line against left-handed starters. They went down in order on 11 pitches the first time up against the Cards' 26-year-old lefty. Strasburg retired the first two batters in the St. Louis second, but Matt Carpenter got hold of a 3-1 fastball and hit it out to center and off the wall, out of the reach of a leaping Denard Span. Carpenter had a double, but went too far around second and got caught when Jayson Werth threw it Ian Desmond and Desi threw to a covering Tyler Moore at second for the third out of the frame. 9-6-3. 16-pitch inning for Strasburg. 42 overall, 25 strikes. Still 3-0 Cards.
Ian Desmond bunted his way on with one down in the bottom of the second, rolling one out toward first, just out of Jaime Garcia's reach. WIth Danny Espinosa up, Desmond stole his third base of the season, in spite of the fact that Garcia saw signs that Desmond was going and almost picked him off. Desmond took third on a fly to center by Espinosa, but was stranded there when Anthony Rendon K'd chasing a 2-2 curve from Garcia into the dirt.
Strasburg was up to 45 pitches when he got Allen Craig to chase an 0-2 curve out the zone low. 3 Ks in 2.1 IP. Ian Desmond backhanded a grounder from Matt Holliday and fired a strike to first for out no.2 and Carlos Beltran popped out to second to end the Cards' third. The 10-pitch frame had Strasburg at 52 overall. 3-0 St. Louis. Daniel Descalso made a diving play at second to rob Jhonatan Solano of a single in "Onion's" second at bat of 2013. Strasburg and Span grounded out too and Jaime Garcia was through three scoreless on 38 pitches. An 11-pitch, 1-2-3 4th for Strasburg followed and he was at 63 total after four. Tyler Moore hit a two-out double by third in the Nats' fourth, but he was stranded at second one out later when Ian Desmond grounded out to to third. Still 3-0 Cards.
Anthony Rendon handled a short-hop grounder to third off Pete Kozma's bat for the first out of the fifth. Strasburg got the opposing pitcher swinging with a 1-2 curve for out no.2 and K no.4 and a fly to right from Matt Carpenter ended a 15-pitch frame at 78 overall. Jaime Garcia was at 71 total after he threw his own 15-pitch, 1-2-3 frame in the bottom of the fifth. Still 3-0 Cards. A 1-2 change got Allen Craig swinging for out no.1 of the sixth and Strasburg's fifth K, but Matt Holliday singled to center on a first-pitch curve in the next at bat. Carlos Beltran flew to center for out no.2 and Yadier Molina flew to right center to end the Cards' sixth and strand Holliday. The nine-pitch inning had Strasburg at 87 overall, down 3-0 to the Cardinals.
Stephen Strasburg and Denard Span hit back-to-back singles off Jaime Garcia in the home-half of the sixth, setting Jayson Werth up with two on and no one out. Werth's swinging bunt advanced both runners. Bryce Harper hit an RBI groundout to second to bring in the Nats' first run, 3-1. Tyler Moore walked to put runners on the corners and chase Garcia from the game, but Cards' right-hander Joe Kelly took over with two down and got Ian Desmond swinging to end the threat. 3-1 St. Louis.
Strasburg got Daniel Descalso looking with a 96 mph four-seam fastball in a long 13-pitch at bat in the top of the seventh. The Nats right-hander was at 100 pitches overall with one down in the inning and at 107 total when he got Shane Robinson swinging with a 2-2 curve for out no.2 and K no.7. A low liner to second off Pete Kozma's bat ended a 23-pitch inning with Strasburg at 110 total, 76 of them strikes. Anthony Rendon's second major league hit was a one-out single to center off Joe Kelly in the Nationals' seventh. Rendon was running when Jhonatan Solano singled to center in the next at bat and the 22-year-old National went first-to-third™ to put runners on the corners with one out and Steve Lombardozzi up. Lombardozzi got up 3-0, took a fastball outside, fouled off the 3-1 and K'd swinging with Solano running to start a strike'em out, throw'em out inning ending DP. Still 3-1 St. Louis.
Stephen Strasburg's Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 110 pitches, 76 strikes, 6/3 GO/FO.
Drew Storen took over in the Cardinals' eighth and gave up back-to-back singles by Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter. A grounder back to the mound by Allen Craig got Jay caught in a rundown, but both runners behind him advanced on the play and Carpenter scored from third on a Matt Holliday chopper to short that drove in a run and was an unplayable single. Storen retired the next two batters to limit the damage but the Cards were up 4-1 after seven and a half. Trevor Rosenthal gave up a one-out solo blast by Jayson Werth, whose 4th HR of the year soared out to left and into the visitor's bullpen, 4-2 St. Louis. Bryce Harper walked to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Adam LaRoche, who K'd swinging for out no.2. Ian Desmond stepped in with two down, and went down swinging as well. 4-2 Cards after eight.
Zach Duke walked Shane Robinson with one down and gave up a single by Pete Kozma. Robinson stole third with Jon Jay at the plate, but a slick 3-6-3 DP ended the Cardinals' ninth. Edward Mujica got a groundout to first from Danny Espinosa for out no.1. Anthony Rendon flew to right for out no.2. Jhonatan Solano grounded out to short. Ballgame.
Cardinals win, 4-2 final.
Nationals now 10-11