Stephen Strasburg struggled on the mound in St. Louis, in his second start of 2021, giving up eight hits, five walks, and seven earned runs in just four innings, over which he threw a total of 88 pitches (just 50 for strikes). Strasburg, 32, never looked right on the mound, he was falling off to the first base side, his velocity was down, and during the game, a camera in Busch Stadium caught him down in a tunnel off the visitor’s dugout massaging his right shoulder/neck area.
After what ended up a 14-3 loss to the Cardinals, Washington’s skipper talked about what was off for the Nationals’ right-hander, who missed most of last season with carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand that eventually required surgery, and he said he thought it was a mechanical thing more than anything concerning for Strasburg health-wise.
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 3 Ks, 3 HRs, 88 P, 50 S, 2/4 GO/FO.
“We watched him, his mechanics were a little off, but we talked to him, he didn’t complain about anything, you know,” Martinez said. “For us it’s part of the process. He hasn’t pitched in a year. We got to get him out there, we got to stretch him out, we’ve got to build him up.
“He was just a tad off today. His last outing was good. Today, he wasn’t as sharp. So he’ll have four or five days to work with Hickey and get him back on track.”
Was the decreased velocity, which saw Strasburg’s fastball average just 90.2 MPH, and his sinker just 90.9 MPH, (down from 92.7 and 93.2, respectively, in his first outing), a red flag, or a cause for concern in the Nationals’ dugout?
“Yeah, like I said, he was out, he had a good outing his first outing, his trainers — never said anything to his trainers,” Martinez said. “We were there, were watching him, I just thought his mechanics — he was falling to the first base side, I thought his mechanics were a little bit off.
“But this is something for me and for him he’s got to work through, he’s got to get out there and he’s got to work through it.”
As for the camera that caught him in the tunnel between innings? Martinez said that never should have been shown.
“Honestly, the first I heard of it was after the game,” he said, “and quite honestly, that shot shouldn’t have been shown.
“I’m a little perturbed about that, that camera is not supposed to be down in that tunnel.”
“Pitchers do all kinds of stuff down there,” Martinez said, and what he knows is Strasburg, “... never complained about any shoulder issues or anything.”
His objection to the footage, he said, was simple.
“That it shouldn’t be there,” Martinez explained.
“Honestly. There’s rules and regulations about that. It’s not supposed to go down in the tunnel. It’s not. So, I mean, it’s in black and white.”
Just before the 4th inning, the Cardinals broadcast picked up on Stephen Strasburg feeling around his shoulder/neck area. pic.twitter.com/kjeQxkqdDK— Blake Finney (@FinneyBlake) April 14, 2021
“I think it’s a joke to be honest that they shoot in the tunnel,” Strasburg said in his own post game Zoom call with reporters, “... because there’s got to be some sort of safe place in the stadium. I’m 32 years old, I’ve been doing this a long time, and there’s been plenty of other starts where something’s not feeling right and whether you treat yourself or you have a trainer come treat you, it’s just part of the business. I went out there and I gave it everything I had. It wasn’t good enough tonight, but I think there’s also like — there should be some sort of privacy. Cause I think — people don’t watch the games on TV to watch some sort of spy camera watching what the player is doing in the tunnel.”
How did he diagnose his own struggles on the mound against the Cardinals?
“I mean, I just threw a lot of poor pitches and they made me pay for it.”
“Just really made some poor pitches there towards the middle of the game, and just had a hard time getting strike one,” catcher Alex Avila said after working with Strasburg.
“Just a bit of lack of command with the fastball. I know that was something we were kind of fighting after the first couple innings,” Avila added.
“Then over the course of the game trying to make adjustments as far as incorporating some of the offspeed stuff to kind of combat the lack of command.”
The decreased velo, Strasburg said, was the result of him trying to locate is fastball better.
“I would say I feel like I had more in the tank if I could sync it up a little bit better,” he said. “I think it was more of a product of trying to slow things down unfortunately to the point that I could just locate a fastball. I understand that extra velocity helps, and helps your margin for error, but I think for me it’s just like trying to execute the pitch and for whatever reason I had to try to get it done at that speed and it just didn’t work out tonight.”
Physically, Strasburg stressed, he feels fine.
“I mean, again, it’s a long season, it’s April,” he said. “We had kind of a very strange start to the season. So, I’m just going to continue to do what I do and take it one day at a time, whatever you guys want the narrative to be that’s your call. So, I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have every start.”