Stephen Strasburg went head-to-head with Clayton Kershaw last week in Los Angeles and put together a solid start in what ended up a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers.
He gave up just three hits, a walk and two runs, one earned in six innings in LA, but took the loss, which snapped a six-start unbeaten streak over which he was (5-0) with the Nationals 6-0 in his starts.
In his last seven outings before Monday night’s against the Atlanta Braves, the Nats’ ‘09 No. 1 overall pick had a 2.58 ERA, 15 walks, 58 Ks and a .189/.258/.331 line against in 45 1⁄3 IP.
Strasburg tossed 7 2⁄3 innings in a win over the Braves during that stretch, holding the Nationals’ NL East rivals to two runs on five hits while striking out 11 batters in a 3-2 win on the road in SunTrust Park.
“He was very sharp,” Dusty Baker told reporters after that start. “All of his pitches were sharp. He threw a bunch of strikes.”
Strasburg threw 86 of 118 pitches for strikes that night (73% strike percentage).
“That’s as many strikes as I’ve seen him throw, period,” Baker added.
“I don’t know if he missed a spot all day until the end,” Braves’ skipper Brian Snitker said after that game.
“I mean, it was just — I told [Hitting Coach Kevin Seitzer] we could have had Hank [Aaron] and [Dale Murphy] and some of them guys in the lineup and I don’t think it would have mattered, because he was really good.”
It didn’t go as well for the Nationals’ starter in his third start of the season against the Braves.
Strasburg gave up back-to-back, one-out home runs by Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp in the opening frame Monday night in the nation’s capital, falling behind 3-0 early, but by the time he took the mound in the third, the Nationals were up 4-3.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as the Braves put two on with two out in front of Matt Adams, who hit a 96 mph 3-2 fastball to center for a no-doubter of a go-ahead, three-run home run, 6-4.
Strasburg helped his own cause with an RBI groundout in the third, Bryce Harper hit a first-pitch fastball out to right to lead off the fourth and tie it back up at 6-6, and the Nationals took a 7-6 lead in the fourth when Ender Inciarte misjudged a fly to center off Adam Lind’s bat and had it soar over his head for an RBI double, 7-6.
Michael A. Taylor’s RBI single to left made it 8-6, and MAT scored on a Brian Goodwin single to right, 9-6.
Strasburg completed a scoreless, 19-pitch fifth, but the Braves pushed him up to 100 pitches overall and the Nationals went to the bullpen at the start of the sixth.
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 10 Ks, 100 P, 66 S, 3/2 GO/FO.
It was all downhill after that, with the Nationals’ bullpen giving up five runs in the last two innings in what ended up another late-inning loss.
Though he lamented that the relief corps faltered again as the Nationals dropped their fourth straight, Baker said he wasn’t concerned about Strasburg’s outing.
“Everybody has a bad day. He just hung in there and battled, and he left with the lead. Every game is not going to be — I don’t care who you are, every game is not going to be a shutout performance. He’s picked us up many times, we picked him up tonight and I wish we’ve have scored some more in the late innings, I think their bullpen shut us down until the ninth.”
As for his own bullpen? “I really don’t have many answers right now,” Baker said.
Strasburg had only positive support for his teammates in the bullpen, telling reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, that he had faith the ‘pen would come around:
“I think everybody in here, we’re all pulling for them, we all believe in them. I just hope that they worry about what goes on in the clubhouse and not what really what’s said outside the clubhouse. I’ve been around long enough to know that the way it works is they build you up to bring you down. It’s easy to kick a guy when he’s down. I’m just going to try to be a great teammate to them and support them through thick and thin.”
Baker espoused the same philosophy earlier in the homestand, telling reporters he wouldn’t kick his relievers when they were down, because, “... they’re getting kicked enough by you guys and everybody else.”
The 67-year-old skipper talked about changing his approach to such things over the course of his career before last night’s loss, saying he was focusing more on positive reinforcement.
“When we were growing up, the mentality wasn’t that at all,” Baker explained.
“It’s a different time and day, and you’re dealing with different people, different athletes and a different era.
“Back in our day there was more yelling and screaming and, you now, Woody Hayes-type stuff, and then whoever is battling you, it’s like I’ll show you, but that doesn’t work any more.”
“Positive reinforcement works a lot better now than negative motivation,” Baker said, “but I can’t lie to them either if you’re not doing the job, you just got to kind of tell them ‘you might not be doing the job’ in a different way.”
Baker’s choice of approach for saying the bullpen wasn’t getting the job done after the eleventh blown save of the season last night, was to say what everyone else has been saying about the Nationals’ relievers for months.
“We need some help,” he said. “We need some help big time. We’ve been knowing that all along.”