Washington Nationals’ starter Stephen Strasburg seemed ready to face the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday evening in his second start since coming off the injured list with shoulder inflammation, but for the second time in three games, a Cincinnati starter outpitched a Washington star in a 3-0, seven-inning defeat for the Nats.
On Tuesday it was Tyler Mahle besting Max Scherzer; this time it was Sonny Gray over Strasburg, with Gray allowing just two hits and striking out three in six scoreless.
“Sonny was really good, made good pitches, kept our hitters off-balance, or you can look at it and say we took too many fastballs and got behind in the count. But he threw the ball well,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez afterward.
Martinez said it looked like the Nats’ hitters were not aggressive enough.
“I know that his curveball was really good. I’m going to go back and look — some of the pitches the guys were questioning,” he explained. “I’ve got to go back and look at why we were taking so many pitches, but when a guy is on like that, you got to be ready early in the count and get ready to hit a fastball.”
Strasburg had a lot of movement on his pitches from the outset, but allowed five hits and walked only one, while collecting five strikeouts in his second game back from the IL stint.
Stephen Strasburg, 92mph Sinker and 79mph Curveball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/pRP8CB5mUh— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 28, 2021
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Strasburg said afterward.
His manager had the specifics.
“He was good. He gave us five innings at 87 pitches, and I thought that was good,” said Martinez. “When he starts locating his fastball, you see that number go down a little bit. Because he’s a guy that’s usually a 6/90 kind of guy.
“He’s a veteran guy that understands the game and understands that his job is to get outs and keep us in the game, and he did that tonight,” said Martinez.
It was really the first-inning, leadoff solo homer to Eugenio Suárez that did him in, as Gray kept the Nats off-balance all night afterward.
“Solo home runs aren’t going to beat me most times,” Strasburg said, “so [he] put a good swing on it, and I was able to settle down after that.
“I think I started to figure out some mechanical things as the game went on ... and it’s just something to keep working on in-between, but all in all, I thought my curveball was pretty effective tonight.”
Strasburg’s only trouble in the second was a one-out double by Max Schrock, and he settled down nicely with 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth.
But he ran into bad luck in the fifth, when Gray beat out a two-out infield hit that deflected off the pitcher’s foot.
After a walk to Suárez, Jesse Winker’s grounder up the middle bounced off the second base bag and over the head of Trea Turner, who was in position to play a clean hop. Gray scored, and the Reds led 2-0.
“I don’t know if I’ll necessarily laugh about it,” said Strasburg when asked his reaction, and if he just laughed off that bad luck. “But it’s baseball. When a guy is batting .350, whatever he is, he’s going to get hits like that, it’s just how it works sometimes.”
How good of a hitter is Jesse Winker? He intentionally hit 2nd base. Wow. pic.twitter.com/M7NBRzIqTA— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) May 28, 2021
The next batter, Tyler Naquin, launched a high bloop that left fielder Kyle Schwarber couldn't get to before it bounced into foul territory for an RBI double that scored Suarez.
Strasburg got Tyler Stephenson to fly out to center field for the third out, but the Reds had already scored more than enough runs to win.
“I thought he did well,“ said Martinez. “Unfortunately we were out of the inning and the ball hits the base, they score a run, next guy bloops a ball into left field, but I thought he did well.
“He threw strikes when he needed to, his fastball command was a tick off. But I thought he threw the ball okay.”
Strasburg sees progression from his injury.
“I think my arm felt good for the most part,” Strasburg said.
“It’s been kind of strange last couple of years, a lot has changed, and it’s all about just kind of putting it down one day at a time and moving on to the next one.”