It's just not Stephen Strasburg's year. It was supposed to be, but it's not. Strasburg was efficient Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field. He was pounding the zone. He was striking batters out, with eight Ks. He was inducing ground balls, with eight groundouts. He had seven scoreless innings on 86 pitches.
He gave up a leadoff home run by Brian Bogusevic on the first pitch of the eighth. That ended Strasburg's bid for a shutout, but he got the next three outs on 10 pitches to finish the inning at 97 pitches overall, so Nationals manager Davey Johnson let him hit in the first at-bat in the top of the ninth so he could go back out in the bottom of the inning and finish the second complete game of his career and the second in his last three starts.
Dioner Navarro singled with one down in the bottom of the ninth, but was forced out on a grounder to second by Nate Schierholtz. Steve Lombardozzi fed Anthony Rendon for the second out of the inning, but Rendon's throw to first was late. No double play. Schierholtz took second on defensive indifference in the next at-bat then scored on a Junior Lake grounder to short. Rendon backhanded Lake's sharp grounder deep in the hole, stumbled as he threw and bounced one by Tyler Moore at first that allowed Schierholtz to score and make it 4-2.
In spite of things heading in the wrong direction, Strasburg maintained his composure where he might have lost it in the past. If Ian Desmond is at short, the game is likely over there, or he's got enough time at short to know not to throw it there and the runner stays at third instead of scoring the Cubs' second run.
"I thought he was really controlling his emotions and everything," Johnson said afterward. "We didn't play really good. The ground ball in the hole at (short). I've got my third baseman/second baseman over there. Good throw he's out and it's easy."
And Strasburg has the complete-game win. Not this season.
Donnie Murphy, who was 6-for-13 with three home runs in the series with Washington, was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts coming into his ninth inning at-bat. Strasburg got him swinging with an 0-2 curve in the second, then threw a 2-2 fastball by him in the fifth. Murphy's third at-bat in the seventh ended when he struck out swinging at a 2-2 change. Strasburg had his number.
With two down in the ninth, Murphy stepped in against Strasburg again. The 1-1 curve Strasburg threw him was the first one the Nats starter hung all afternoon and Murphy waited on it and connected when it broke, knee-high inside. Bryce Harper tracked the fly to the wall and turned back at the ivy, dejected. Strasburg crouched behind the mound like he'd been punched in the gut and watched it soar, shaking his head as it kept going and going.
"You hate to see him get beat with a curveball he leaves up out over the middle of the plate," Johnson told reporters after what ended up an extra-inning win in which Strasburg received a no-decision.
"Usually in that situation, he just goes to his fastball and just locates it and it's over. But he's got a lot left in the tank. I think the first pitch was 96 mph right on the black away. And if he just locates the fastball, nobody's going to hit him in that part of the game. But he threw a decent curveball, but it was up and it was in the heart of the plate. If he buries it down, he gets by with it."
Not his season. This was supposed to be Strasburg's year. It was supposed to be the Nationals' year, too. After 25 starts, the 24-year-old right-hander is 6-9 with a 3.00 ERA, a 3.30 FIP, 47 walks (2.71 BB/9), 162 strikeouts(9.35 K/9) and now 15 HRs (0.87 HR/9) allowed in 156 innings. It wasn't the lack of run support that's plagued him all year that cost him yesterday. In seven of his nine losses this season, he's received two runs of support or less.
He got four runs yesterday in Chicago, and as the Nats noted in their pregame stats, the 2009 first-round pick was 22-2 in 31 career starts in which he got three runs of support or more before yesterday. The run support he got yesterday left him with the fourth-lowest average run support per start in the majors. The Nationals gave him support yesterday. Strasburg cruised through seven innings, got through eight. He overcame errors that might have and did shake him in the past. A two-out error and one bad pitch to a journeyman on a hot streak cost him a complete-game win.
It's not Strasburg's year.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for href="http://www.federalbaseball.com/"target="_new">Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.