Back on May 31st in Atlanta, Georgia's Turner Field, a lat issue caused Stephen Strasburg noticeable discomfort on the mound, so he was lifted after just two innings against the Braves, having allowed just two hits and one run. It was the shortest start of the 2009 no.1 overall pick's career. Strasburg went on the DL after that abbreviated outing, but returned on June 16th in Cleveland.
In five starts since returning from the Disabled List before Friday night's outing in Miami, Florida's Marlins Park, the Nationals' 24-year-old right-hander posted a 2.25 ERA over 32 IP in which he allowed a combined 22 hits, two home runs and eight runs total, all earned, while issuing two walks (3.38 BB/9), striking out 34 (9.56 K/9) and holding opposing hitters to a .193/.292/.263 line.
Strasburg didn't make it out of the second last night, however, and though there were no injuries to blame, there was disappointment on his part about how the first half of the 2013 season ended. "It wasn't the plan," Strasburg told reporters afterwards, "going out there and giving up five runs in the first inning, but it is what it is. You've just got to hang in there, I guess, it's tough, but it happens to everybody and it's all about how you bounce back."
"It can happen to anybody," Davey Johnson agreed with his pitcher in a separate interview following last night's loss, "but it's kind of remarkable to happen to him." The Nationals jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on Marlins' starter Nathan Eovaldi, only to lose the lead and fall behind 5-3 after a 36-pitch, 16-strike bottom of the first in which Strasburg allowed four hits, three walks and five earned runs. Johnson wasn't surprised his team had a problem bouncing back after that, in what ended up an 8-3 loss to the Marlins.
"When you get off to a good start then all of a sudden you give back five," the 70-year-old skipper said, "that can take the air out of the tires pretty quick. The other guy settled down and pitched pretty good."
Davey Johnson wasn't concerned about any injuries, and he dismissed any concerns that home plate umpire Jerry Layne might have been squeezing his starter early. "I though it was a pretty good strike zone," Johnson said, "He was missing pretty bad." It was mechanical issues causing Strasburg's struggles according to the Nats' manager.
"He had a few little mechanical problems, he's flying open a little bit. He's been awfully good. I guess he's entitled to one bad one. But it just was a tough time, we got him a lead and he had some problems."
Johnson decided to pull the plug early on Strasburg's 18th start when it was clear the right-hander just didn't have it. "He threw I think close to 70 pitches in two innings and what did have, four or five walks? And obviously it wasn't going to be his day and just got him out of there before any more damage."
"If I fall off to the first base side too much then everything gets out of whack," Strasburg explained when asked about the mechanical issues. "I've been battling through it the last couple starts, been able to make the adjustments and tonight I just couldn't do that."
Unfortunately for Strasburg, he'll now have to wait until after the All-Star Break to get back on the mound and try to shake the start off, but he said he was looking forward to getting back on the hill.
"I think you're always trying to get better," he told reporters last night in Miami, "always trying to learn and I think it's these type of games where you've got nothing working that you can really just kind of take a step back and just pick it apart a little bit and kind of see your flaws a little bit more."
It was a tough to end a strong first half in which he's received little run support with a start like Friday night's in which he got more runs of support before taking the mound than the Nationals' offense averaged over the course of his first eighteen outings.
"It's tough on everybody," Davey Johnson said afterwards, "but tomorrow's another day."
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