The Washington Nationals' bullpen was spent after Tuesday night's 16-inning affair in Milwaukee, so the Nats needed a strong start from Stephen Strasburg in the series finale with the Brewers in Miller Park this afternoon.
What they got was the 25-year-old right-hander's second-shortest outing of the season and perhaps his worst start of the 2014 campaign to date.
Strasburg was knocked out after throwing 96 pitches in just 4 ⅓ innings in an April 5th game against Atlanta in the nation's capital when the Braves scored six runs, three earned, on eight hits and three walks in his shortest start.
Today in Wisconsin, Strasburg gave up eight hits, three walks and seven runs in 4 ⅔ IP in which he gave up a two-out second-inning grand slam by Brewers' infielder Scooter Gennett on a 2-1 fastball up in the zone, a solo home run on a first-pitch fastball to Khris Davis in the fourth and a two-out, two-run single by Davis in the fifth which followed a two-out triple and back-to-back, two-out walks.
Strasburg was 27 pitches into the fifth when Nats' skipper Matt Williams was forced to go to the bullpen for debuting right-hander Taylor Hill, who was called up as insurance since the rest of the bullpen was taxed.
The Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick was at a loss to explain his struggles telling reporters, including The Washington Post's James Wagner, that his mechanics were "not right."
Asked what was wrong, Strasburg said he wasn't sure:
"'Still trying to figure that out. Just doesn’t feel the same. Doesn’t look the same.'"
Williams chalked it up as a bad outing by the Nationals' starter, who walked more batters today than he did in 31 ⅔ IP over his previous five starts and threw 90 pitches total in 4 ⅔ IP .
"That's going to happen sometimes," Williams said after what ended up a 9-2 loss. "Got the bases loaded and got one out over the plate to Gennett and Davis hit a fastball as well. Just wasn't as pinpoint as he wanted to be today. We were limited so we hoped he'd go further, but [Taylor] Hill threw the ball good, saved our bullpen today."
Strasburg's problem, Williams said wasn't fastball command, though he did give up the two home runs on fastballs up in the zone.
"I don't know if it was fastball command so much today," Williams said, "but his changeup wasn't as good today so he couldn't go to it. He was missing with that and he got behind in the count, they took advantage. This team swings at fastballs and they hit them. And if you get behind, you can get in trouble."
That's not just a problem for Strasburg, but any starter.
"I think that's the case with anybody, " Williams said.
"If you get behind in the count you ask for trouble and that would be the case with Doug [Fister] or Jordan [Zimmermann] or Tanner [Roark] or anybody. So, the key for Stephen is going to be to continue to have fastball command early, be able to throw his breaking balls for strikes and use the changeup off of that and today it was a little backwards and he got one up in the zone and they hit it."
The Nationals took two of three from the Brewers, leaving the NL Central leaders 48-32, with the second-best record in baseball (behind Oakland, 48-30). The Nats head to Chicago to take on the Cubs with a 41-36 record and a 1.0 game lead in the NL East.