The overwhelming theme of both Davey Johnson and Stephen Strasburg’s sessions with reporters after tonight’s game was that Strasburg needs to do a better job of managing his emotions when things aren’t going his way.
Johnson commented that Strasburg “lost a little poise” tonight. Strasburg wasn’t about to disagree with that theory, acknowledging that after allowing a few runs early, he got a bit rattled and got out of his gameplan instead of just rolling with the punches.
“Yeah, it’s tough when you’re always falling behind and they’re aggressive like that, you’ve got to really fight yourself and just try to keep on pitching and not let it happen,” Strasburg said. “I had a tough time trying to get back in a groove tonight.”
Catcher Jesus Flores noticed that, as well.
“He’s been always an emotional guy,” Flores said. “After the homer, he kind of started forcing himself to make perfect pitches, but it seemed like it didn’t work out. I think we didn’t play very good tonight, either.”
Strasburg said he only threw one fastball down in the zone the way he wanted to. That was the first pitch of his outing. From there, his stuff was elevated, and the Phillies made him pay for it.
Not only did Strasburg’s struggles affect the way he was attacking hitters, it also affected the way he was monitoring baserunners. Or, should I say, not managing baserunners.
Juan Pierre stole two bases in the third inning and then came around to score on Flores’ throwing error. Opposing starter Cliff Lee followed that up by stealing second base an inning later, a clear signal that Strasburg was focusing far too intently on the guy in the batter’s box.
“Obviously, I’m pretty upset with myself for letting guys steal on me,” Strasburg said. “It’s something where (when) things aren’t going right, you still have to remember when there’s guys on base. You’ve got to keep them close and back up your position, as well.
“I have a tendency to (forget about baserunners) anyways. It’s something that I’ve just been working on. It’s a process. And they really kind of took advantage of me not keeping the guy close as much as I should have.”
It’s a small sample size, but Strasburg’s numbers have seriously dropped off after the All-Star break, largely due to his inconsistent outings. Of his four second-half starts, two have been excellent, while two have been outings to forget.
You often hear from pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery that consistency starts to become an issue late in their first full season back. They might feel that their arm is in good shape, but for whatever reason, the results just aren’t there some nights. That’s part of the reason why teams handle pitchers who have had Tommy John with such caution. (See: the innings limit on Jordan Zimmermann last season and Strasburg this season).
Zimmermann has said that was exactly the case with him last season - his first full year back from Tommy John. His ERA before the All-Star break last season was 2.66. In his second-half starts, Zimmermann’s ERA jumped to 4.14.
In his 17 first-half starts this season, Strasburg pitched to a 2.82 ERA. After the break, his ERA stands at 4.43. Again, small sample size, but it might seem that the Tommy John surgery is starting to factor into his performance lately, much as it has with other starters who have had the procedure.
Strasburg, however, doesn’t feel the surgery has factored at all into his rough couple outings, and brushed off a question along those lines.
“I’m not blaming it on having Tommy John,” Strasburg said. “It happens to everybody. I’m just going to forget about it and make the adjustments. It has nothing to do with coming off Tommy John. That’s over two years now. I was just flying open a little bit and that was causing my ball to get flat and be up in the zone.”