Stephen Strasburg’s streak of seventeen-straight starts without a loss to begin the 2016 campaign ended during the last homestand, when the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team to beat him this summer.
He’d won two-straight since, however, giving up just one run in 13 innings in back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks, before he started in the nation’s capital on Saturday night.
Washington’s 28-year-old right-hander held Arizona’s hitters to one run on three hits in six innings of work on the mound in Chase Field last time out, in what ended up a 14-1 win for the Nationals.
“Stras was sharp,” Dusty Baker told reporters after that game, “not quite as sharp as usual, but sometimes it’s tough to pitch in a game like that, especially when you’re used to the opposition throwing their best games against [you].”
Overall on the year after the loss, Strasburg was (15-1) with a 2.63 ERA, a 2.88 FIP, 38 walks (2.56 BB/9), 161 Ks (10.84 K/9) and a .192/.256/.309 line against over his first 20 starts and 133 ⅔ IP before he took the mound for last night’s outing against the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants.
Baker talked before the second game of the three-game set with the Giants in D.C. about the focus he’s seen from Strasburg this season.
“It’s hard to tell that he’s 15-1, even though it’s easier to be up than down when you’re going poorly,” Baker said, “but as well as he’s done, there’s still a lot more in there and I think he knows there’s more in there. And his focus has been — he’s hard to figure, right?
“He’s always kind of smiling, but you don’t know if it’s a smile or like a smirk. It’s never a frown, he’s not sad, am I right? I’m having the same problems that you’re having.”
Strasburg is a bit of an enigma, apparently. Baker, in his short time with the Nationals since taking over on the bench, is learning that the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick is sometimes hard to read.
“But whatever it is, he’s a pleasure to be around,” Baker continued. “I’ll tell you one thing. He doesn’t miss anything. Cause I’ve seen him, I can tell by your eyes that he sees all. I think he’s probably a lot smarter than a lot of us give him credit for.”
Strasburg gave a fairly insightful take on his struggles in his second loss of the season on Saturday night, in what ended up being his shortest start of the 2016 campaign to this point.
Giants’ hitters drove his pitch count up, and drove in four runs on eight hits in just 4 ⅔ innings pitched, over which Strasburg struck out eight and threw 88 pitches.
He started strong, retiring 9 of 10 batters in the first three innings, but a leadoff triple, three straight one-out singles and a bases loaded walk in the fourth made it 2-0 before Strasburg got back-to-back Ks from the Giants’ eight and nine hitters to end the top of the inning.
Eduardo Nunez, who tripled to start the fourth inning rally, did it again in the fifth and scored on a RBI double by Brandon Belt. Belt scored on a sac fly to center to make it 4-0 before Strasburg was lifted.
“They were hitting him pretty hard, which they usually don’t and that was enough,” Baker said when asked if he thought his right-hander just ran out of gas.
“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. I think he had almost 90 pitches in five innings, so how much further were you gonna go?
“So I decided to pull him at that point in time.”
“I feel like I was scuffling the whole game, yanking some pitches,” Strasburg told reporters.
“Yeah, I retired 9 of the first 10, but I didn’t really feel like I was executing anyway, it just kind of caught up to me. I think I grinded, had some balls in play go their way, sometimes it’s going to happen, just got to do a better job executing pitches.”
He did, however, note that outside of the extra base hits by Nunez, who went 3 for 3 with two triples and a double against Strasburg and 4 for 5 overall in the night, they weren’t hitting him particularly hard.
“They’ve just gotten some little bloop hits when they really needed it,” he explained.
“And other than Nunez, really didn’t get hit around the yard too much, so it’s just one of those games where it’s like you make a pitch and they somehow keep the inning alive and I was happy with myself to kind of minimize the damage there in the fourth inning, that was probably as big of jam as you can be in and to really only get out of there with giving up two runs, I was really pretty happy with the way I battled there.”
“It was too much Nunez today,” Baker said.
“I mean this was his day. And I don’t know what happened, but they must have eaten some line drives for dinner or lunch because there were line drives hit everywhere off of whoever we put in there. It was just, it was their day today.”
The rubber match of the three-game set gets underway at 1:35 PM EDT this afternoon.