With sweat showing through his San Diego State baseball T-shirt after the game, right-hander Stephen Strasburg spoke softly and appeared frustrated with another no-decision that turned into a loss, this one a critical opening series setback to the first place Braves.
Strasburg went seven innings, tossed 112 pitches and allowed just two runs, yet his team lost 3-2 at Nationals Park.
“I want to go out there and compete,” Strasburg said. “I feel like I didn’t let up for seven innings.”
The Nationals’ offense was unable to put any big rallies together against the Braves despite hitting the ball hard in what turned out to be a lot of line drive outs: Ian Desmond to second and Wilson Ramos to right in the third, Bryce Harper to Jason Heyward in the seventh, Adam LaRoche a hot shot in the eight to the shortstop.
It was an all too familiar scene for Strasburg.
“You see it,” Strasburg said. “I see it. It is frustrating. What can you do? Have good AB’s, put good swing on a ball, and it hit right to a guy. Terrible contact, and they somehow dump it over someone’s head.”
In a critical battle in the fifth inning with the game tied at 1-1, Justin Upton reached on a single and then was able to jump Strasburg’s delivery to the plate, stealing second base. He came around on Freddie Freeman’s second RBI single of the game. The Braves had the lead back, 2-1.
Holding runners is a part of Strasburg’s game that needs improvement. Manager Davey Johnson said it continues to be a point of emphasis with Strasburg. Opponents have been able to time Strasburg’s delivery.
“We have worked with him and worked with him,” Johnson said. “He has the same pattern every time. He is very quick to the plate, but he is locked in his ways. We throw over there more than we want just because of that. He doesn’t even wait to do that. It is right from the get-go. It is still a work in progress.”
“It happens,” Strasburg said. “You get caught having a predictable time to home plate. He took a gamble, 3-0 hacking. It went up the middle. It is what it is.”
The pitch count shot up quickly for Strasburg early in the game, 22 pitches after one inning and 42 pitches after two frames. He had 94 pitches through five innings but then fired only 18 pitches to get his final six outs through the seventh.
“I settled down,” Strasburg said. “I was able to throw more first pitch strikes and throw back-to-back strikes a lot more later in the game. That got a lot of weak contact, some early contact. That is what you got to do when you have innings like that early on and you throw a lot of pitches.”
Strasburg ends up allowing two runs or less for the third start in his last four.
But the Nationals’ offense does not provide enough run support. In nine of the last 11 Strasburg starts, the offense has scored two or less runs. That is the biggest reason the Nats are not winning Strasburg starts, and he remains 5-9 with a 3.01 ERA, down from 3.04 ERA to start the game.