Nationals manager Matt Williams' two main topics Tuesday prior to their game against the Rockies dealt with Stephen Strasburg's mechanics and Bryce Harper's comments.
Williams said Strasburg worked on his mechanics during his side session this week following his last start June 25 at Milwaukee.
In that game, Strasburg allowed seven runs, all earned, on eight hits with three walks over 4 2/3 innings.
The seven runs were the most he has allowed this season and the eight hits were tied for second most, when he allowed nine against Atlanta in his second to last start June 20. The 4 2/3 innings also marked the third shortest outing of the season.
Suddenly, Strasburg has allowed 17 hits in his last two starts.
"He worked on his mechanics in the side session," Williams said. "He felt as if he was maybe flying open a little bit, which would affect his fastball command. Certainly for him it's important to throw it where he wants to throw it because it opens everything else in his arsenal."
Williams said Strasburg needs to be able to locate his fastball against a power hitting club like Colorado tonight, otherwise it could be trouble.
"This team is very similar to Milwaukee in that they're fastball hitters and they hunt early fastballs too," Williams said. "Be important for him tonight to have command of that and then it can open up everything else.
"He's ready to go. He feels good about it. From start to start depending on who your opposition is and how you're feeling things can change too. I don't think it was anything of major concern, he just felt like he was opening up a little bit quick and leaving the ball middle of the plate more than he's used to."
Williams believes Strasburg was frustrated for good reason. If a power pitcher like Strasburg doesn't have his mechanics down to a sound level, everything else can break down.
"For me, in watching him last time out I think he was more frustrated that he didn't having changeup command, too," Williams said. "So he didn't necessarily have it to go to in that start. Mechanics are important for him. He's a big guy. It's important for him to have proper mechanics and he's continuing to work on it. I think he will be fine."
Williams also addressed a bit of the drama surrounding Harper's comments that he would prefer to play center field at some point. Williams didn't mention Denard Span, but he did talk about how his relationship with Harper is right now.
"I talked to Bryce, certainly. I got to let you guys know something, I have Bryce's back in every way," Williams said. "That will not change. I want him to play every day and I want him to play the way Bryce knows how to play."
Williams said he is not concerned if Harper states that he isn't pleased to be batting sixth in the lineup. And Williams said that doesn't bother Harper either, even if he might mention it to the contrary.
"He's going to hit in different spots in the lineup, and he's OK with that," Harper said. "He's going to play in different spots in the outfield and he's OK with that too. I know there is a lot made of it. And I know there's a lot of discussion about it. But he and I are good. There's no rift. We have a conversation every day. And I got his back. I support him all the way. I'm happy to write his name in the lineup every day. Who wouldn't be."
Williams was asked if he had talked to Harper about how teammates might perceive Harper's comments.
"I let him know that I support him," Williams said. "Part of my job is to do that. I admire his talents and the way he plays the game and how happy that we are to have him on our team. That's the extent of it."
Williams went back to talking about his relationship with Harper.
"That will not change. There's no problem between he and I, certainly, there never has been," Williams said. "I respect him and he respects me. I'm really happy to put Harper in that lineup every day because it gives us a very good chance to go out there and win a ball game."
But still no one has asked Williams or Span directly if Harper talking about being the center fielder bothers them. The subject will not go away and hopefully we will be able to see how Harper and Span react in the coming days.