At some points last night Stephen Strasburg struggled with his fastball command. At others, he dominated with his mid-90's heater. In the fifth inning he threw a 96 mph full-count fastball to Justin Upton to get a swinging K with two runners on and the Atlanta Braves threatening to break a 2-2 tie. In his final inning of work he struck out the side on 13 pitches, nine of them strikes, mixing a 76 mph curve and an 88 mph change in with a 95-97 mph fastball.
Strasburg's last four pitches were fastballs MLB.com's Gameday had at 96, 96, 97 and 97 mph to B.J. Upton, who K'd swinging on the Nats' right-hander's 93rd pitch. Afterwards, the 24-year-old starter told reporters that when it clicked for him on the mound and felt good in the sixth, "I felt like I was getting on top of the ball and driving it down in the zone and when I get that feeling all my pitches kind of all into place."
Strasburg ended his sixth start after 6.0 IP in which he looked uncomfortable enough for Davey Johnson to wonder about his health.
When his outing ended, the game was tied at 2-2. Two walks he issued, one to Jordan Schafer in the first and another to Freddie Freeman in the fifth, ended up resulting in the only two runs he allowed. Strasburg walked four, gave up six hits and the two runs and struck out eight.
Gio Gonzalez recorded nine Ks in 4.0 innings of work tonight in Atlanta, but he threw 95 pitches in those four innings and gave up seven hits, five walks and five runs, one on a home run to left by Andrelton Simmons on the second pitch of the game. The Nationals trailed 5-0 when he left and lost 8-1 to give the Braves five-straight over the Nationals to start the season and nine overall going back to late last season.
"Today's one of those things you just can't explain," Gonzalez said after the loss, sounding frustrated. "You either attack the strike zone or you don't. You get nine strikeouts and five walks. Then they make some good contact. Then they [get] broken bat hits. It's just one of those games you just can't explain."
Gonzalez praised Tim Hudson's effort, but was at a loss when asked what had gone wrong with his own. "To strike out nine and all of a sudden walk five?" Gonzalez asked rhetorically, "I mean, if you can an answer to that, I mean, tip your hat. Honestly. They were being aggressive then all of a sudden they weren't. It's just they were mixing it up. I made some great pitches that they put some wood on it. They were finding hits, some way, somehow."
"He looked like he was going right after them, " Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "And obviously he wasn't keeping the ball down or hitting his spots. They hit a couple balls hard and scored a few runs off him, then he got a little bit wilder. Just a tough outing for him. You know, when you pitch you've got to hit your spots, you've got to make good pitches. He just didn't do it."
Though Gonzalez did collect nine Ks, Johnson cautioned, "He punched out a lot of guys, but a lot of them were full counts or he wasted a lot of pitches on a lot of hitters."
Asked to sum up the team's recent struggles, Johnson said, "Right now the pitching [has] not been consistent. A couple guys struggling. Some key guys in the offense not doing things they're capable of doing and it just kind of snowballs."
"Try some different guys tomorrow," Johnson said. He'll have Jordan Zimmermann on the mound coming off a 91-pitch complete game shutout. Will Anthony Rendon be back in the lineup? Steve Lombardozzi? Tyler Moore again? Is Jayson Werth going to talk his way back onto the field? Can the Nats break the Braves' winning streak?