After Stephen Strasburg's brief three-inning outing against the Diamondbacks last week in Phoenix, Arizona's Chase Field, Washington Nationals' pitching coach Steve McCatty pretty accurately described what transpired on the mound in what ended up a 14-6 loss to the D-Backs in which Strasburg allowed eight hits and eight runs, seven earned before he was lifted.
"'That was just as bad as I’ve seen him, as far as making mistakes with some pitches,'" McCatty told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman.
"'After 5-6 years, to have one game that was really like that … you’ve got to throw it out the window. You’ve just got to get back out there and trust yourself and make your pitches. That’s all. It’s never fun. It’s never easy. It’s always easier saying it.'"
Going into Sunday's follow-up start in San Diego, California's Petco Park, Strasburg's hometown, Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked about what he was looking for from the 26-year-old right-hander.
"Just aggressiveness," Williams said.
"Since his last start to this one, the only thing that we've talked about with him is being aggressive. Be aggressive with your pitches and go after them. He's got really great stuff. Last time out he relied a little bit on secondary pitches, but for him it's always about fastball command and if he's got that tomorrow then he can be really tough on them."
Did Williams see that from Strasburg on Sunday? He made it through five innings in the series finale with the Padres, striking out seven, but after giving up a leadoff double by Matt Kemp and a single to center by Justin Upton, Williams lifted him in favor of Nats' reliever Tanner Roark, who allowed one of the runners to score before ending the frame.
"Better," Williams said. "A little more aggressive today. Ran into trouble in the last inning. He did a nice job of pitching out of that first, but he used his fastball today, which was a good sign."
Strasburg was asked what was different for him yesterday.
"Just locating my fastball better," he said. "I think my changeup to lefties was a little bit better. Curveball was good too."
"I think it's just his aggressiveness," Williams said when asked about Strasburg's fastball command.
"In the last inning especially, but Kemp and Upton hit breaking balls.
"But he was throwing his fastball where he wanted to and that allows him to get ahead in the count and then he can use his other stuff if he wants to, but he was really aggressive early with his heater which is a good sign."
Strasburg too said there were good things to take away from the outing.
"I just wanted to go out there today and keep the team in the ballgame and give us an opportunity to win and they went out there and did it."
"I think the biggest thing is to stay focused," Strasburg said, "and then just try to find the positive in every outing and hold on to that and use it to your advantage and just really try to keep going in the right direction."
Fangraphs.com's Jeff Sullivan wrote last week about Strasburg's issues with his delivery and mechanics with runners on, specifically.
Through eight starts, opposing hitters have a .417/.469/.514 line against the right-hander when there are runners on base and a .400/.415/.540 line with runners in scoring position.
In his career, opposing hitters have a .264/.318/.386 line with runners on and a .262/.319/.372 line against Strasburg with RISP.
It's something both Strasburg and Williams acknowledged the pitcher is working on.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," Strasburg said of his work with runners on in the series finale.
"It's just something that I'm working through right now. It's progress. So, can't be mad about that."
A run scored on a Matt Kemp single with a runner on second in the first when the Nats failed to connect on a play at the plate, but Strasburg stranded a runner at second in the second inning, striking out the opposing pitcher, Ian Kennedy, and Cory Spangenberg to end the frame, and the single Justin Upton hit in the sixth came after Kemp's leadoff double.
"He was okay today," with runners on, Williams said.
"He had a little stress early, guy trying to steal third and a ground ball up the middle, the ball from Danny [Espinosa] short-hopped [Jose Lobaton], but other than that he settled in and he got outs.
"It was a high pitch count early, but he settled in enough to get him into the sixth inning anyway and if he didn't have any issue there, then we'd let him go through that inning too, so, I thought it was good, much better than last time out for sure and something to build on."
• We talked about Stephen Strasburg's outing, Bryce Harper's ridiculous numbers and more on last night's edition of Nats Nightly: