As fun as it might be to watch the 1-2 change Stephen Strasburg threw to Joey Votto in the bottom of the second this afternoon in the Washington Nationals' 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, and I've watched it around 20 times thus far, neither the pitcher or Nats' manager Davey Johnson seemed all that interested in focusing on one of the 114 pitches the 24-year-old right-hander threw in just 5.1 IP in his second start of 2013. In the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore's article on that particular pitch he quotes the Nats' starter saying simply, "'It was all right,'" before going on to talk about how he's actually trying to refine his stuff so that it breaks later and more sharply as opposed to being so dramatic that a hitter can see it coming. Votto clearly didn't in this instance, but from what Strasburg said, the offering wasn't exactly what he'd hope for from his change.
• Give the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore's article a read, Strasburg's catcher this afternoon had his own opinion on the pitch and seemed to be impressed.
When Davey Johnson was asked about that particular pitch in his post game meeting with reporters he too talked about Strasburg's command of his pitches today more than the movement of the one change to Votto. "He actually threw quite a few changeups," Johnson said, "He didn't have much location on it. He was leaving a lot of them up. Other than that, [he] used all his pitches. I've seen him have better location on all of them."
After an infield single on a curve that Xavier Paul grounded weakly toward first base and a walk to Joey Votto in the Reds' first, Strasburg gave up a single by Brandon Phillips on a first-pitch fastball and surrendered a two-run double by Jay Bruce on a 2-2 curve outside that the left-hander hit the other way for an early lead. A groundout to second by Todd Frazier on a 95 mph 2-2 fastball down in the zone brought in the third run the Reds scored in the first. 16 of Strasburg's first 23 pitches were strikes. Shin-Soo Choo and Xavier Paul both hit 1-1 fastballs for two-out singles in the second before the aforementioned change got Votto swinging to end a 17-pitch inning, after which Strasburg was at 40 pitches overall.
• That change again via CBSSports.com's Dayn Perry:
Strasburg said he was able to make some changes after that though he had some questions about how the Reds hit him when he was pitching out of the stretch. "I think I learned a lot out there today," Strasburg told reporters after the game, "When things were going good, especially after I made the adjustments after the first couple of innings, throwing a lot more strike ones. There's something going on with when I'm out of the stretch. They seemed to take better swings. So I've just got to look at the video and see what I'm doing out there. Some days you're just going to give up a lot of singles, and when they all get on base they seem to come up with the clutch hit, so you've just tip your cap and move forward."
Asked if he might have been tipping pitches, Strasburg would only say he was going to have a look at the video to see what he could find. "Just going to look at some video and see what happens."
After the three-run first and the two runners on in the second, Jay Bruce reached on an error by Chad Tracy at first on a weak grounder. Todd Frazier jumped on a first pitch fastball and singled and the Nationals walked catcher Ryan Hanigan intentionally to get to the opposing pitcher, whose groundout ended the frame. Strasburg pitched around a leadoff walk in the fourth and struck two out after a one-out walk to Frazier in the fifth. Asked what was different after his early struggles, Strasburg said it was just a matter of finally finding his command.
"Just settled down and I was just locating the ball a little better," the 24-year-old pitcher explained, "Changeup started to come back a little bit more. The real thing is they didn't really hit much offspeed beside the [Jay] Bruce double. A lot of it was early contact. And sometimes they're going to swing early and you're going to give up some hits, so you've just got to keep going out there and pitching to contact and the odds are in your favor."
"It's just about making your pitches," Davey Johnson told reporters, "He didn't make as good [of] pitches as he did after the first, second inning, he started hitting his spots a lot better. I thought he mixed his pitches up good, but it's again the location of pitches [that] means everything. And that was a tough one."
Derrick Robinson (on his first major league hit) and Shin-Soo Choo hit fastballs for singles to start the sixth, and Strasburg got a double play grounder out of Xavier Paul only to have Danny Espinosa (as a result of a miscommunication he'd later say) throw home too late to get Robinson. A groundout by Votto then moved the two runners on base into scoring position for Brandon Phillips, who took a 1-2 change up in the zone to left for an RBI single that made it 5-3 Reds and ended Strasburg's second start.
"It was a tough ballgame," Davey Johnson said, "they've got a bunch of good hitters. [Strasburg] threw the ball all right, but didn't hit his spots when he needed to and it cost us."
Strasburg threw 114 pitches total, 73 for strikes and did get nine ground ball outs. His final line: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 Ks. In two starts this season he's now (1-1) with a 4.38 ERA, a 2.34 FIP, four walks (2.92 BB/9) and eight strikeouts (5.84 K/9) in 12.1 IP.
The starter and his teammates head home to start a three-game set with the White Sox and then they play three more with Atlanta next weekend.