Three starts ago, Stephen Strasburg pitched six scoreless innings, striking out seven Marlins.
Two outings ago, Strasburg got hit around a bit by the Braves, allowing four runs and 11 baserunners over 5 1/3. His last time out, the Nationals ace was dominant, striking out 11 over seven one-run innings in Flushing, NY.
Tonight, the run of inconsistency continued, as Strasburg lasted just four innings, surrendering six Phillies runs on eight hits.
In Davey Johnson’s eyes, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint what went wrong for Strasburg tonight in the Nationals’ 8-0 loss.
“Obviously, he didn’t have his best stuff and his location wasn’t real good,” Johnson said. “Some pitch selections ... we know the hitters. We go over them. And he was fighting himself. Just, young pitcher. Lost a little poise. It’s part of growing up.
“It’s just a long grind and you can’t be totally dominant every time you go out there. And he expects it of himself, and when he makes a bad pitch and a guy hits it out of the ballpark, it makes him try harder. It’s part of learning.”
So how does a starter develop a level of greater consistency from start to start?
“It’s just experience,” Johnson said. “He’s a smart pitcher. He’ll learn from that. With all the expectations and all the hype that’s brought out, he has that bar way up there, too. So when he’s not hitting his spots, he’s not missing the bat, he loses a little bit of his cool demeanor. He very seldom has it, but that’s part of it. It’s part of becoming a very good pitcher.”
As far as Johnson’s concerned, that’s one of the main issues with Strasburg - that when he struggles, he lets it get to him much more than he should. The Nats have been trying to work with Strasburg on brushing off bad pitches or poor results and wiping the mental slate clean, but they’ve still got some work to do in that area.
“He’s such a competitor that he shows it,” Johnson said. “It’s just part of it.”
Remarkably, tonight was just Cliff Lee’s second win of the season. That number’s deceiving, however, as he’s still put up a decent 3.73 ERA and still is able to mow down a lineup, as he did tonight. Lee shut the Nats out over seven innings, retiring the final 10 hitters he saw.
“Got a pretty good pitcher going against us who has been down that road,” Johnson said. “Seasoned. Doesn’t make many mistakes. Pitched out of a couple jams, made good pitches. Happens.”
Johnson joked that the only reason Lee left the game after seven innings was because he saw Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez send one to the backstop in the top of the eighth, and with Lee’s turn up two batters later, he might have kindly asked manager Charlie Manuel to go with a pinch hitter.
“I don’t think he wanted to hit (against) Henry,” Johnson said with a smile. “Takes pride in his hitting, but I think that ball that went to the backstop, I think he said, ‘Skip, you can take me out now.’”
One play which Johnson likely hopes to forget was Jimmy Rollins’ inside-the-park homer in the fourth, in which Bryce Harper ended up falling awkwardly on the warning track in right field and Roger Bernadina failed to back up the play, letting Rollins trot around the bases.
“Yeah, I mean, Roger should’ve been over there,” Johnson said. “I was paying attention to (Harper) lying on the ground and thinking, ‘I’m going to have to run out there.’”
If there is some good news from tonight, it’s that it appears both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche will be able to return to the lineup after missing tonight’s game with back issues. After a game where the Nats were shut out and struck out 12 times, Zimmerman and LaRoche will be welcomed back with open arms.