Stephen Strasburg retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced in four scoreless innings last time out on the mound against the Chicago Cubs in the nation's capital. The San Diego, California-born, Washington Nationals' right-hander got the first out of fifth inning in D.C. that day and got help from his defense as Roger Bernadina, Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman combined to throw Luis Valbuena out at third when he tried to stretch a double to right into a three-base hit. With two down in the fifth, however, and Strasburg on a roll, Zimmerman committed a throwing error that led to a long inning in which Strasburg ended up throwing 42 pitches.
Edwin Jackson hit a two-run double off the Nats' starter and two more scored when Anthony Rizzo hit a two-out single to center. All four runs were unearned, but Strasburg was up to 95 pitches and done after 5.0 IP against the Cubs in which he actually lowered his ERA from 3.45 on the year to 3.10 while simultaneously raising questions about his own ability to deal with adversity. "He's too good a pitcher to let adversity behind him let him down," Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters after the loss. "He's certainly capable of picking us up when somebody else -- it's a team effort, you know, and errors are part of the game."
Strasburg was at just 53 pitches after four innings, working efficiently and retiring batters at a pace that had him set up for a long night on the mound. "He was doing the things he wanted," Johnson said, "He was using all his pitches. I thought he was probably going to go the route. But after that kind of inning, I couldn't bring him back out." When he'd completed his eighth start of the season, Strasburg was (1-5) with the 3.10 ERA, a 3.36 FIP, 15 walks (2.70 BB/9) and 51 Ks (9.30 K/9) in 49.1 IP.
A San Diego Union-Tribune article by Matt Calkins on the right-hander who attended San Diego State University returning to his hometown tonight, had some interesting notes about Strasburg's reaction to adversity. Davey Johnson's talked often about Strasburg being a perfectionist. After the last outing against Chicago, the 70-year-old skipper joked that his right-hander often beat himself up and it's something both he and pitching coach Steve McCatty have spoken to the pitcher about before.
"McCatty has had conversations with him about not letting anything bother you in the ballgame," Johnson said, "And sometimes 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." Strasburg's teammate, Ryan Mattheus, is quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune article saying much the same. "'He’s a perfectionist. He’s very regimented. He’s not going to change his ways,'" Mattheus tells the reporter, "'With Stephen, it’s that work ethic that stands out more than anything.'"
Strasburg's high school catcher, Josh Pichette, is quoted in the article too, and the Strasburg he describes sounds awfully similar to the one who struggled after Ryan Zimmerman's error in the game with the Cubs:
"'He just didn’t always have a good attitude, and once he got in a certain mood, you couldn’t get to him,' said Pichette, who knew Strasburg in Little League and remembers times when he would spontaneously quit the team. 'But he always had more talent than anybody else. We all knew what he was capable of.'"
As the Strasburg legend has it, things changed once SDSU coach Tony Gwynn and pitching coach Rusty Filter got a hold of the right-hander, who started taking his conditioning more seriously once he got to college. Strasburg's dedication to conditioning increased even more after he underwent Tommy John surgery. The pitcher returned to action in even better shape than he'd been when he made it to the majors. Davey Johnson has stressed before that the pitcher is still at the beginning of his career, still learning, and still becoming the pitcher he will eventually be. Tonight Strasburg returns to where it all started for the Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick. It's a perfect opportunity for the now-24-year-old starter to show everyone how he's changed.
• 10:10 pm EST tonight in PETCO Park. Strasburg vs San Diego.
• Here's the lineup that will be backing him up:
Tonight's lineup at SDP: Span 8, Lombardozzi 4, Harper 7, Zimmerman 5, LaRoche 3, Desmond 6, Bernadina 9, Suzuki 2, Strasburg 1— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) May 16, 2013