Of the seven St. Louis Cardinals' batters Stephen Strasburg faced in the first inning of Wednesday's 4-2 Nats' loss in Nationals Park, four got balls in the first pitch of their at bats. Strasburg got behind Cards' leadoff man Matt Carpenter 1-0 and gave up a double on a 96 mph four-seam fastball. The Nats' right-hander got ahead of Matt Holliday 0-1 but gave up a single to right on the second pitch he threw to the Cards' hard-hitting outfielder. Carlos Beltran got up 3-0 and walked to load the bases and Yadier Molina started 2-0 and singled to right on a 2-1 two-seamer to drive in two of the three runs St. Louis would score in a 26-pitch frame.
Before Wednesday's game, through four starts, the Washington Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick had a 56.2% F-Strike% (First-Strike%) down from 62.3% in 2012, 71.6% in 2011 and 60.2% in his rookie campaign in 2010. His 56.2% F-Strike% so far this year had him ranked 45th overall out of 57 qualified NL starters, ahead of Gio Gonzalez (49th, 55.2% F-Strike%) and Jordan Zimmermann (50th, 55.1% F-Strike%), but behind Ross Detwiler (37th, 59.1% F-Strike%).
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said after the game that making sure to get ahead in the count as often as possible is something Nationals' Pitching Coach Steve McCatty stresses with his pitchers. "Cat hammers that in on him," Johnson said, "And the first inning was kind of like how he'd been approaching the other ballgames, but after the first inning he just made it look easy, had a really low pitch count. He could have gone another inning even."
The problem Johnson's seen early from both Strasburg and 2012 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez is that they're both, "... trying to be too perfect instead of going with what made you what you are [which] is going right after them. And they have the stuff to do that." Strasburg threw first pitch strikes to two of the three batters he faced in a 16-pitch second, one of three in a 10-pitch third, three of three in an 11-pitch fourth, three of three in a 15-pitch fifth, three of four in a nine-pitch sixth and one of three in a 23-pitch seventh which featured a 13-pitch at bat against Cardinals' infielder Daniel Descalso that started with ball one. The Nats' right-hander threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 26 batters he faced in the loss to St. Louis (61.5% F-Strike%).
"Stras, you know, the first inning he was throwing good," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "but he was just up with everything. And then he started pitching. He made it look easy. That's a good thing."
"I think maybe [Strasburg is] trying to do too much," the Nats' skipper continued, "but when he just pitches like he did after the first inning, he got the ball down and everything is more effective. And he attacked the strike zone. Early it was kind like the last time out, he was trying to make the perfect pitch and missing away, and it's a lot easier to pitch ahead."
"'I was trying to throw the perfect pitch,'" Strasburg told reporters including MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr after his seven-inning outing against St. Louis:
"I tell myself going into the game, 'Don't do that.' I go out there and I do it. I was really happy I was able make the adjustment and get the feeling back. My velocity came back up. I was throwing a lot of strikes and they weren't taking as many good swings.'"
"He's a perfectionist," Johnson told reporters before the series finale with the Cardinals, "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."
Strasburg's quoted admitting in the article by MASN's Mr. Kerr that he's still getting comfortable on the mound this season. "'You can't look at a small sample size and say that something is crazy and something is going on, but I know at the end of the year the numbers are going to be where they are going to be."
When Johnson managed Strasburg with Team USA in the '08 Beijing Olympics, he said the right-hander relied more on command, but after his 14 K debut and the high K totals early in his career, Strasburg changed his approach. "[He went] away from contact," Johnson explained, "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."
After taking the loss on Wednesay, Strasburg is (1-4) in five starts and 31.1 IP with a 3.166 ERA, 3.33 FIP, eight walks (2.3 BB/9) and 28 Ks (8.04 K/9) so far this season. Not the numbers Nats fans have come to expect from the Nationals' no.1 starter, but not bad either for a pitcher who says he's still working things out in his first full season back following Tommy John surgery.