Stephen Strasburg was unbeaten in five starts (with a 2.41 ERA, seven walks, 40 Ks, and a .182/.233/.289 line against in 33 2⁄3 innings pitched) between August 9th and 31st, but he took a loss last time out before facing the Twins in Minnesota on Wednesday, ending that streak, giving up four hits, four walks, and three earned runs over six innings on the mound in a 4-2 loss in Atlanta.
“Strasburg made his pitches,” Davey Martinez told reporters in SunTrust Park after Strasburg’s start against the Braves, “but you’re talking about some good hitters over there, so sometimes that’s how it works. They got a couple early runs on bloops, we’re not going to complain about that because we’d take them too.”
“I gave it everything I had and it just wasn’t good enough tonight,” Strasburg added, “but sometimes that happens. They made me work for it all night. I wasn’t expecting anything less, I was excited for the challenge.”
After going up against the NL East’s first-place Braves, who finished the series with 89 wins and won their 90th on Monday night and 91st last night, Strasburg was matched up with the Twins, who were 88-55 in 2019 going into the series, and 89-55 after Tuesday’s win in the opener in Target Field.
The Twins had also hit an MLB-best 276 home runs before last night (tied with New York’s Yankees), with three players already at 30 HRs -- Max Kepler (36), Nelson Cruz (35), and Mitch Garver (30), and two more approaching that mark, Eddie Rosario (28), and Miguel Sanó (27).
“They’re really kind of a throwback team to those teams that really bang,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning. “And it’s a good ballpark to hit in and it’s a team that can do damage quickly.”
“They have long ball capabilities,” Rizzo added, “and are a team that sees a lot of pitches, doesn’t strike out all that much for as much power as they have and [they] can make you pay for a bad pitch quickly.”
Jorge Polanco (21) got all of an 0-1 fastball up high, outside from Strasburg in the bottom of the third, and hit a two-run shot out to right in Target Field, but the Nationals had already put up five by that point, 5-2, and the Nats’ start held the Twins there through five, on 98 pitches, and came back out for the bottom of the sixth and retired the side in order in a six-pitch frame, which left him at 104 total.
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 104 P, 66 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
Strasburg earned his NL-leading 17th win in what ended up a 6-2 game in the Nats’ favor. He got 15 called strikes, seven with his changeup, and finished with 11 called strikes, six with his curveball.
He finished at 104 pitches, but threw 29 of them in the first, working around a single and a walk in the opening frame, then settling in for a solid, if unspectacular, effective outing.
“He settled in after that first inning,” Martinez said. “Started getting his breaking ball and changeup over a little bit better, but he came in clutch, especially that sixth inning.
“He had  pitches, and he wanted to go back out, so that was big for us.”
His manager sent him back out for the sixth, but wasn’t going to give him any leash beyond the first three batters due up.
“That was going to be his last hitter,” Martinez explained. “I didn’t want him to go over 105 [pitches]. He’s had a healthy workload, and he’s done well.”
“You can kind of see the finish line there,” Strasburg told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, when asked about wrapping up his outing with the six-pitch frame.
“I think it’s easy to go out there and overthrow; tried that before and it doesn’t work. For me, I just try to go out there and slow down a little bit. Make sure I’m focused on each pitch and make sure I’m not rushing through things.”
“He grinded it out tonight,” Ryan Zimmerman told MASN’s Alex Chappell when asked about Strasburg’s outing after the first baseman went 3 for 4 at the plate with a two-run home run in the win.
“A good amount of traffic on the bases, didn’t have his great stuff, but that’s where he’s really turned the corner the last three or four years, even when he doesn’t have his great stuff he grinds it out, he’s a complete pitcher now, he knows how to do a lot of things out there, and if one thing is not working he can go to Plan B, or Plan C, and he’s really turned into a complete pitcher, it’s been fun to watch.”
Martinez talked over the winter, and this Spring, about the work Strasburg put in during the offseason to prepare himself for the 2019 campaign, and he said last night that we’re seeing all that hard work pay off.
“You’re seeing it,” the second-year skipper said, “every fifth day he goes out there. But what I see every day, and what he’s putting his body through to get to where he’s at, he’s working unbelievable. I mean, he changed his whole routine over the winter, and he came back with a different mindset, and you’re seeing Strasburg being Strasburg, and I think he’s learned a lot since his injury last year, about how to pitch, and how to go about his daily routine.”