After going unbeaten in his first seventeen starts this season (13-0), Stephen Strasburg was (2-2) in his last four before taking the mound on Friday night against the visiting Atlanta Braves in the series opener in Washington, D.C.’s Nationals Park.
Over the .500 stretch leading up to last night’s outing, the Nats’ 28-year-old righty had a 4.18 ERA, six walks, 31 Ks and a .233/.278/.400 line against in 23 ⅔ innings pitched.
On the year, that left him with a 2.80 ERA, 39 walks (2.54 BB/9), 169 Ks (11.00 K/9) and a .202/.262/.324 line against in 138 ⅓ IP.
His last outing before tonight’s was his briefest this season, as the San Francisco Giants knocked him out after just 4 ⅔ last week in the nation’s capital, in a start which saw Strasburg give up eight hits and four earned runs.
“They were hitting him pretty hard, which they usually don’t and that was enough,” Dusty Baker told reporters when asked about the decision to lift Strasburg from the start when he did.
“You don’t want to leave him out there to get beaten up either, you know what I mean. We weren’t scoring any runs, so I thought that was enough for Stras.”
Strasburg didn’t last much longer against Atlanta on Friday.
Braves’ hitters, and Freddie Freeman in particular, knocked him around for a total of seven hits and six earned runs in 5 ⅓, handing him his first back-to-back losses since early May of 2015.
In his last two starts, he’s now given up 15 hits and 10 earned runs, walking three and striking out 15 in 10 IP, over which opposing hitters have a .341/.375/.682 line against him. His ERA has jumped from 2.63 to 3.07 in the last two starts.
“I don’t want to sit here and make excuses,” Strasburg told reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the loss. “I didn’t execute tonight.”
Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker was asked if there was anything he saw in the last two starts that was causing Strasburg’s issues?
“No, not really. This happens no matter who you are. I think [Jake] Arrieta had four or five tough outings, but now he got his stuff back together again.
“These things happen. He is not infallible. He’s human and sometimes you hit a bad period of time like this.”
They also tend to happen when Strasburg faces Freeman, who went 2 for 3 on Friday, doubling to center to drive in a run in the first and homering with two on in the fifth to put the Braves up 5-3 after the Nationals had rallied to take a 3-2 lead.
Freeman is now 14 for 34 (.412/.476/.853) with three doubles and four home runs in 42 plate appearances against Strasburg in their respective careers.
“It was too much Freddie Freeman,” Baker said, “but I was told before that Freddie has had a tremendous amount of success in this ballpark and it continued tonight.”
Freeman collected two hits against Strasburg and Jace Peterson took the Nationals’ starter deep in the second as well, sending a 2-0 fastball out to right for a solo shot.
“[Strasburg] got some pitches in an area that he wasn’t trying to get it in. Changeup slipped out of his hand and it was up and the breaking ball was up, and that’s what it kind of boiled down to. Freeman gave them the lead and [Jace] Peterson got a fastball up and out over the plate and it was a matter of location vs running out of gas.”
“He had something in the tank,” Baker explained. “He just grooved some pitches.
“He didn’t have anything in the tank ... in the middle innings, he ran out of gas.
“The heat kind of got to him and the opposing pitcher. It kind of got to him first because his pitch count got real high.”
Strasburg was up to 103 pitches when he was done, after giving up a leadoff single and getting the first out of the sixth on a groundout that put a runner in scoring position.
That runner scored for the final run he was charged with on the night when Anthony Recker homered off Matt Belisle on the first pitch the reliever threw.
The Braves took the series opener, 8-5, and Strasburg fell to (L, 15-3) on the season.