WASHINGTON, D.C.: Try not to let your eyes glaze over as we start with some stats. In five June starts before tonight’s outing against the Chicago Cubs in Washington, D.C., Stephen Strasburg was (2-1) with a 5.08 ERA, 4.69 FIP, nine walks (2.86 BB/9), 35 Ks (11/2 K/9), and a .252/.320/.459 line against in 28 1⁄3 innings.
Those numbers followed a (2-1) April, which saw the 28-year-old right-hander put up a 3.09 ERA, 2.71 FIP, seven walks (1.80 BB/9), 31 Ks (7.97 K/9, and a .219/.257/.328 line agianst in 35 IP, and a (4-0) May in which the 2009 No. 1 overall Draft pick posted a 2.78 ERA, a 2.40 FIP, 11 walks (3.06 BB/9), 43 Ks (11.97 K/9) and a .207/.276/.339 line against over 32 1⁄3 innings.
Last time out, in the series opener with the Cincinnati Reds this past weekend, he gave up eight hits, two walks, and five earned runs in five innings on the mound, throwing a total of 95 pitches before Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker decided to go to the bullpen.
“He struggled,” Baker told reporters, after what ended up a 6-5 win over the Reds.
“Every pitch and every batter was a struggle,” Baker said, “but that’s how pitching and how life is sometimes. You’ve got to keep struggling and find a way to keep your team in the game to come back like we did tonight.”
Strasburg admitted that he had a hard time dealing with the humid conditions in the nation’s capital in that game, telling reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, that he felt like he, “... lost about 10 pounds of water weight,” while he was on the mound.
“Got to go back to the drawing board. I thought I was ready for it. It’s something I’m just not used to, growing up on West Coast. I think I’ll adjust eventually. But I’d hopefully like to adjust sooner rather than later.”
Baker talked before the start of the third of four with the Cubs in D.C. about what he’d seen from Strasburg as he struggled in the past few starts and what he expected from him tonight.
“A couple balls improperly located,” Baker said, “and then a couple bad breaks at the same time. We all need breaks. I think Stras will have a good one tonight. He usually does in bigger games, I find, so he’ll be fine.”
Strasburg got off to a good start with a 10-pitch, nine-strike scoreless first, working around a one-out single by Kris Bryant, and he struck out the side in the second in a quick, 12-pitch frame, throwing 19 of his first 22 pitches for strikes.
With the Nationals up 5-0 after two, Strasburg returned to the mound and struck out the side again in a 16-pitch third that left him at 38 pitches and 30 strikes with six Ks in a row and seven strikeouts overall.
Strasburg’s streak of consecutive Ks ended with Kris Bryant’s second hit of the night, a leadoff double in the Cubs’ half of the fourth, and the Nationals’ starter’s shutout bid ended one out later on a 2-0 curve to Willson Contreras that soared out to left field for a towering two-run home run that cut the Nats’ lead to 6-2.
He issued a two-out walk to Jon Jay in the next at bat, but Strasburg got a 6-3 DP out of Javier Baez to end an 18-pitch frame that left him at 56 total.
Albert Almora, Jr. hit the second leadoff double in two innings off Strasburg in the fifth, and came around to score on an error by Ryan Zimmerman at first, 6-3, but Strasburg limited the damage in a 22-pitch frame that left him at 78 pitches, and he struck Bryant out for his 10th K to end the frame.
Strasburg’s eight-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth left him at 86 pitches, with 11 Ks after he struck Ian Happ out for the second time in three at bats against the Cubs’ infielder.
Javier Baez went down swinging feebly at a darting 0-2 change from Strasburg that kept moving inside and tied the batter up for the first out of the Cubs’ seventh and the 12th K of the game for the Nats’ right-hander, and one out later, Strasburg collected his 13th strikeout when he threw an 0-2 fastball by Tommy La Stella for another swinging strikeout.
That was it for Strasburg.
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 13 Ks, 1 HR, 96 P, 70 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
Strasburg’s changeup was especially brutal. According to Brooksbaseball.net, he threw 21 total, 15 for strikes got 15 swings and 11 misses with them, with 13 strikes not put in play. He got 30 swings on his fastball as well, 11 swinging strikes, and four more swings and misses on his curve.
Asked about his changeup tonight, Strasburg said simply, “I am just trying to throw it as hard as I can.”
Baker talked about how tough a pitcher Strasburg is to face when he’s dealing like he was tonight.
“He has all his pitches working, especially when he can get that breaking ball over any time,” Baker said, “and the first-pitch breaking ball, which is a lot in the first inning, and then he had a well-located fastball away, in, and up when necessary, so yeah, he had it going on tonight and you could just sort of tell when he left last night that he was going to be ready today, he had that kind of look in his eyes.”
Asked why Strasburg’s outing ended when he did, after seven innings and 96 pitches, Baker said that the righty had a back issue, which led to him taking pitches in his last at bat in the sixth.
“Actually, he had a back spasm in the fourth,” Baker said. “And we didn’t know how far he was going to go, that’s why you saw him, he takes pride in hitting, you saw him take those three pitches, and so, we said, ‘Hey, man, just take the pitches and then pitch as long as you can,’ which he did, and that’s what went into the decision to take him out. He gave us all he had during the time he was out there and then our bullpen did the rest.”
Baker did note that he wasn’t concerned about the spasms.
“I ain’t worried about it, just it happens sometimes, I mean, throwing a baseball is really an unnatural act, to throw it overhand and the back is so delicate, if anybody’s ever — you don’t know why spasms come up, but they hit and he gave us — it was a real gutsy performance and he gave us what he had.”