As unusual as Stephen Strasburg’s start was today, with an eight-minute rain delay disrupting the first inning and the Nationals righty allowing the second-most runs of any start in his career, a bit of information revealed postgame might have been even more bizarre.
According to manager Davey Johnson, Strasburg had some “hot stuff” get “misplaced” during his start, which contributed to his struggles on the mound.
“It was on his shoulder and evidently ... I don’t know how it got to where it got, but it was uncomfortable, to say the least,” Johnson said with a chuckle.
What exactly does that mean? Hard to say for sure, because Johnson didn’t offer much more information than that, and Strasburg declined to comment on the topic, saying only, “I’m going to keep that in the clubhouse.”
But after asking around a bit, from what I understand, some pitchers put a balm or heat rub on their arms (or sometimes other parts of their body) in order to stimulate the nerves and help them loosen up. It sounds like during Strasburg’s start, the heat rub relocated to another area of Strasburg’s body, possibly with the help of the rain, which caused him some discomfort.
I’ll stop there, because this blog is for all age groups.
Unfortunately for Strasburg, the hot stuff incident was only one factor which led to a rough first inning today, in which he allowed three runs on three hits and two walks.
Padres leadoff hitter Will Venable lifted a high pop-up to left-center to begin the game, but neither Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel nor Ian Desmond made a play on the ball, and it fell in between the three of them for a double.
“Nobody called it,” Johnson said. “Everybody took it for granted the other guy was going to catch it. Can’t ever take anything for granted in this game. We can’t have that attitude, and especially to start the game.”
A mild rain early in the inning then quickly escalated, and before Strasburg knew it, a run was already in and he was facing catcher John Baker with the bases loaded and two outs in a downpour.
“It’s just tough because the ball was soaking wet up until the second-to-last hitter I faced that inning,” Strasburg said. “You’re just trying to guide it in there.”
The rosin bag was also wet, making it so that Strasburg had a tough time getting a grip on the baseball, even after stepping off the mound and trying to compose himself. Eventually home plate umpire Brian Gorman stopped play, and after a very brief rain delay, Strasburg had to fire a 3-2 pitch to Baker with nowhere to put him.
“When they finally call it, it’s kind of like, OK now I don’t have any margin for error,” Strasburg said. “It’s tough with them calling it when the count’s 3-2 with the bases loaded. Obviously you’ve got to throw a fastball over the plate. I got a groundball, it just made it through the hole. It’s baseball. It’s going to happen.”
Baker’s single up the middle scored two, putting the Nats behind 3-0. Strasburg battled through three more innings, and said he felt better as the outing went on, but with his pitch count at 81 through four frames and the rain delay factored in, Johnson went to his bullpen to start the fifth.
The botched pop-up, the hot stuff, the rain delay ... it just wasn’t a smooth first inning overall for the Nationals. And please, no jokes about the hot stuff and my choice of the word “smooth”.
“Not an ideal way to start,” Johnson said. “All kinds of little things going against us.”