"It can happen to anybody," Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters after Stephen Strasburg's two inning, 66-pitch, first-half-ending start against the Miami Marlins last week, "but it's kind of remarkable to happen to him." It was the briefest outing of the 2009 no.1 overall pick's major league career which he didn't leave due to injury, and a tough way to go into the break.
A month of July that started with seven shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in which he gave up just three hits, ended with the Nats' 24-year-old right-hander giving up a combined 12 hits, six walks and 11 runs, all earned in eight innings against the San Diego Padres and Marlins.
His 12.38 ERA over those last two outings left Washington's right-handed starter with a 2.99 ERA on the year (up from 2.24 after the start against the Brewers). The .333/.467/.583 line opposing hitters put up over those eight innings left the opposition with a .214/.298/.321 line against Strasburg so far this season. He's surrendered nine home runs (0.87 HR/9) and 37 walks (3.07 BB/9), collected 107 Ks (9.06 K/9) and posted a 3.40 FIP over 108.0 IP.
Last year at the break? 2.82 ERA, 2.53 FIP, .221/.287/.339 line against, eight home runs (0.73 HR/9), 28 walks (2.55 BB/9) and 128 Ks (11.64 K/9) in 99.0 IP.
Strasburg probably would have preferred to get back on the mound right away, but the All-Star Break gave him a full week of rest between his 18th and what will be his 19th start of the season. Tomorrow night he'll take the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers. While he'll be looking to bounce back from the rough outing against the Fish, as Strasburg told reporters after the start in Miami, it's no different than the way he approaches and tries to learn from every start.
"I think you're always trying to get better," Strasburg said, "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."
Davey Johnson has, of course, talked about just how critical of himself Strasburg is, joking earlier this season that, "He's such a perfectionist. Any little thing can -- even when a guy flies out, he'll wonder if he threw the pitch in the right spot. He's very critical of himself." So maybe a whole week between starts after an outing like the last one isn't the best thing for Strasburg.
Especially considering that he had a three-run lead before even taking the mound against the Marlins in a season in which he's been criminally under-supported by the Nationals' offense. Though the Nats scored 11 runs for the right-hander in his next-to-last start of the first half against the Padres, Strasburg finished the "first-half" of the 2013 campaign with the second-lowest average run support per start in the majors at 2.94 RS, tied with the Pirates' A.J. Burnett behind only the Chicago White Sox' Chris Sale (2.76 RS).
Strasburg's received two runs or less in eight of his starts this season which the Nationals lost. Six of those games were decided by two runs or less. Before that last outing in Miami, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo stumped for his starter and set the record straight for anyone who might think Strasburg's (5-7) record at the break is a sign of a struggling pitcher. Rizzo said he's taken it to another level this season.
"The bar for Stephen Strasburg is so extremely high from people from outside the organization," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier last week. "This guy pitched terrifically all season -- for his whole career. Has he taken it to the next level? Yeah. The first time he stepped on the mound he took it to the next level and he continues to pitch extremely well. You're not going to throw a two-hit shutout and strike out 14 every every time out. This guy gives us a chance to win games every time he takes the mound. He's getting better and better each and every start. He's learning more about himself and more about the league each time out.
"The most analyzed pitcher since I've been doing this stuff has been Stephen Strasburg. We break down every minute detail of everything he does. We get crazy when he shakes his arm too much and when he gives up two or three runs in a ballgame, but this guy is one of the elite pitchers and he's continued to be an elite pitcher."
Strasburg will be back on the mound tomorrow night at 7:05 pm EDT for his first start of the second half. And barring any setbacks or hiccups or unforeseen events, he'll continue pitching until the last game of the season is played, which should thrill all the "people from outside the organization" who were so concerned with his innings limit last season...
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