Perhaps the biggest start of his career to this point was Stephen Strasburg’s Game 4 outing against the Chicago Cubs in last October’s NLDS. Strasburg, who battled flu-like symptoms, tossed seven scoreless in Wrigley Field, striking out 12 of 25 batters to keep the season alive for a Game 5.
Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez, who was the Cubs’ bench coach, talked in a recent pregame press conference about what he saw from the Nats’ right-hander that day.
“He was lights out,” Martinez said. “I remember when he went out there after the first inning, I turned and looked at Joe [Maddon] and I said, ‘Ooof, this is going to be a long game if he keeps that up right there. Because his changeup was phenomenal, he was keeping the ball down in the strike zone, sinking the ball, his curveball was really good, so he was really, really good.”
While that start seemed like a big step forward for Strasburg, the 2018 campaign has been something of a step back for the 30-year-old right-hander, who’s missed significant time with shoulder and neck issues that limited him to just 17 starts and 101 1⁄3 IP before he faced the Cubs again on Thursday night, over which the 2009 No. 1 overall pick had put up a 4.09 ERA, 27 walks, 118 Ks, and a .245/.299/.423 line against.
Strasburg got off to a good start with two scoreless in the series opener against Chicago in the nation’s capital, but the Cubs scored two in the third with Anthony Rizzo doubling to drive in a run and Ben Zobrist connecting for an RBI single.
Zobrist added a sac fly in the fifth to tie things up at 3-3 before the Nationals took the lead back in the bottom of the inning.
Strasburg came back out for the sixth at 95 pitches, and recorded two outs around a one-out walk before he was done for the night, having thrown 111 pitches, with the runner he’d left on base eventually stranded.
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 111 P, 71 S, 4/4 GO/FO.
His two-seamer sat 93-94, his four-seamer 93-95, still down a tick from his average velo this season, but he got seven swinging strikes with his four-seam fastball, and six more with his changeup (87-88 mph), while mixing in his slider and curve according to Brooks Baseball’s breakdown of his pitch selection.
“Stras was awesome,” Davey Martinez told reporters after what ended up a 6-4 loss.
“111 pitches. Came out and he said he felt really good, so that’s encouraging, he’s getting better. He’s still 95 [mph] sometimes, but he’s pitching, and he’s doing really well.”
“I think velocity isn’t quite there just yet,” Strasburg said, “... but the life is there, so I think that’s a positive, so I just keep grinding, just keep working at it and it seems like there are stretches where it feels better and there are stretches where it doesn’t feel as consistent, but I think anybody can say the same thing.”
“He’s pitching now,” Martinez added.
“He’s not throwing the 97, but he’s making good pitches every at bat and I like that.”
So is he dialing it back a bit on purpose, or is the drop in velo a result of the shoulder issue and the time off?
“For me, I like what I see,” Martinez said.
“Because he’s pitching in and out, using his changeup in good counts, attacking with his fastball down, his sinker is really good, going in on righties, I mean he’s doing all these things. He’s not trying to overpower people, but he’s actually pitching and making good pitches.”
Strasburg went back out for the sixth at 95 pitches, Martinez explained, because the right-hander said he felt good and they wanted to see what he had. He threw 111 in 5 2/3, in the end, but finished the outing strong.
“They were grinding out there,” Strasburg said. “They’ve got a pretty deep lineup, and you can’t take pitches off with them, so you’ve just got to kind of keep executing, and you’re never out of the count with them either, they’re a pretty aggressive team.”