The question before last night's game was a simple one: Would Stephen Strasburg hit one of the Atlanta Braves in retaliation for three pitches in the past two weeks that hit Washington Nationals' outfielder Bryce Harper? If Strasburg, the no.1 pick in '09, was going to stick up for the top pick in the 2010 draft, Davey Johnson explained before the game he'd be doing it on his own, not at the behest of the 70-year-old skipper. "I never order a pitcher to go after anybody," Johnson said, "but we have a way of protecting our own."
Johnson reiterated that he thought Julio Teheran's decision to hit Harper last week in D.C. with what everyone in Washington saw as a purpose made little sense. The two HBPs the night before, in the first game of three for the Nats in Turner Field, didn't seem intentional to the skipper because the circumstances under which they occurred didn't seem ideally suited for sending a message to the Nationals' 20-year-old slugger. "It's either total ignorance or just being wild," Johnson said. "And I'm not sure which it is at this point."
But still, Teheran, starter Alex Wood and reliever Luis Avilan threw pitches that hit Harper in the hip, back and back of the left arm, the second on Friday hard enough in the left tricep that the outfielder took the night off on Saturday and sat and watched what transpired. The fact that Harper had to take a day off when the Nationals were fighting for every win didn't sit well with the defending NL East Champs or their manager. "I'm not happy with it and I know everybody in that room is not happy with it," Johnson told reporters.
Strasburg apparently thought a message had to be sent and he delivered it in the form of a 97 mph fastball to Braves' left fielder Justin Upton's backside. The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Jason Heyward homered on a 3-2 heater in the first at bat of Atlanta's half of the inning and Strasburg hit Upton with a high 90's fastball that left no question about his intentions. Upton gave a little look out towards the mound as he took his base. Home plate umpire Marvin Hudson issued warnings and things had seemingly been settled between the divisional rivals.
Strasburg got out of the first without further damage and the Nationals added two more runs on Braves' starter Mike Minor in the top of the second and that's when things got weird. After a long 41-pitch inning in which Minor was knocked out of the game, Strasburg retook the mound in Turner Field and threw four straight balls to Jordan Schafer, walking the leadoff hitter. The first pitch the Nats' starter threw to the next batter, Andrelton Simmons, was a curve ball outside that was nowhere near a strike. It earned the Nats' pitcher a visit from Pitching Coach Steve McCatty. The next two pitches went behind the Braves' shortstop and hit the backstop hard, allowing Schafer to take second and then third. The second of the two wild pitches got Strasburg and manager Davey Johnson tossed.
Strasburg didn't argue against the ejection, walking off the field and into the third base dugout. Davey Johnson argued, but had no case, really. Johnson, as quoted by reporters, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Carroll Rogers, expressed concern with what he saw from Strasburg in the second and asked if anything was wrong when he joined Strasburg in the clubhouse:
"'When I came in the first thing I said to Stras (was), ‘Are you hurt? Is something wrong with you?,’ said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who also got ejected since both dugouts had been warned. 'He said ‘No, I’m just a little out of sorts.’"
• via Twitter:
#Braves Minor on Strasburg/Simmons: "Everything was a little off. He kind of just walked off, didn’t look like he was really there."— Amanda Comak (@acomak) August 18, 2013
Strasburg blamed the long top of the second, saying he lost his command after sitting. "Just the long inning right before there," the right-hander told reporters. "I just got a little cold and I [was] just missing spots." Asked if it was mechanics or something else, Strasburg said, "I can't really explain it. Just didn't really feel good out there and couldn't hit the spot."
But he said he understood the ejection. "Sure, yeah, it makes sense," the Nats' starter said. As for the HBP on Upton? "I'm not going to get into that," Strasburg responded when asked.
The two pitches behind the Braves' shortstop left Marvin Hudson with no choice as Nats' Bench Coach Randy Knorr explained when he talked to reporters after what ended up being a marathon fifteen inning affair. "I think a lot of stuff was building up," Knorr told reporters. "I don't know why he would try to hit Simmons. I don't think so. I think he was trying to go inside. And he just threw one behind him. And I think the umpire thought the same thing and then the next one behind him too and [Hudson] can't let that happen. Simmons beat us the other way quite a bit, so he was trying to go in."
"I think it was, 'I'm going to go in and if I go in and hit him, I hit him,'" Knorr said, speculating on Strasburg's thought process. "I don't think the intent was to go in and hit him at that time. I think if he was going to miss, he was going to miss inside and so that's what he did."
There was little doubt in Knorr's mind about Strasburg's intentions when it came to the HBP on Justin Upton.
"They hit Harper quite a bit," the bench coach said, "I don't know if somebody said something. Or he just decided to do it on his own. If he decided to do it on his own, I'm proud of him."
So the Braves took some liberties, at least in the Nationals' minds. The Nats responded, with their top starter hitting the Braves' left fielder after they'd hit the Nationals' left fielder. That's it, right? "I think it should be over," Knorr said, before offering his thoughts on why things escalated to the point they did on Saturday night.
"I think if they would just let it play out and let the guys do what they're going to do instead of throwing warnings up there... I think when you throw a warning up there, it just prolongs it, so it doesn't happen that day because you can't lose players and the manager don't want to leave, so next time you see them... those guys are going to do what they want to do out there, you can't control them all the time."
After a few weeks, four HBPs, some words and a near brawl, the players apparently settled it on the field.
More from Federal Baseball:
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- Stephen Strasburg Ejected Early: Nationals Win 8-7 Over Braves On Adam LaRoche's 15th Inning HR
- Stephen Strasburg Ejected: Nationals' Starter Hits Justin Upton; Ejected For Wild Pitches In Second
- Nationals' OF Bryce Harper Scratched From Tonight's Game After HBPs Friday vs The Braves
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