Focusing on Strasburg’s focus

Some fans and media pundits wondered why the Nationals waited so long to tell Stephen Strasburg about their plan to shut him down.

They questioned the Nats’ decision to keep Strasburg out of the loop and implied that it was a case of mismanaging by the front office and coaching staff.

You want to know why the Nats didn’t tell Strasburg about the shutdown plan earlier in the season? Because they didn’t want that clouding his focus or giving him anything out of the ordinary to think about going into an outing.

Strasburg said that he wasn’t especially geared up for last night’s start, his final home outing of the season, and that he didn’t let that affect his mindset.

His manager wasn’t so sure.

Davey Johnson told reporters that he thought Strasburg “wasn’t focused as much on the game as much as the impending shutdown.” If that was indeed the case, even though Strasburg says it’s not, you can’t really blame him.

It can’t be easy to go pitch knowing there’s a set expiration date on your arm, and after that point, your teammates will be left to fight without you. That can’t be a good feeling, and it’s likely why Johnson revealed his ace right-hander has had trouble sleeping of late.

Regardless, Strasburg turned in an outing which tied for the shortest of his career. His fastball command was off, he fell behind in counts and the Marlins made him pay.

Strasburg allowed five runs and four extra-base hits over just three innings. His ERA since the All-Star break is now 3.73, nearly a full point higher than his pre-break ERA of 2.82.

Check out the number of runs Strasburg has surrendered in each start since the break: 0, 4, 1, 6, 0, 1, 2, 1, 7, 0, 5.

That inconsistency is in no way unusual for pitchers in their first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Jordan Zimmermann went through it last year and has come back this season saying, in retrospect, he didn’t have the same consistent feel from start to start in the second half of last season. And his performance suffered, like Strasburg’s has a handful of times since the All-Star break.

The Nationals knew what they were doing by shutting Strasburg down and not informing him about the exact plans until earlier this week. This was a well thought-out process.

Now, they need to decide whether Strasburg’s timetable will be adjusted due to last night’s start and how they can go about ensuring he’s in the proper frame of mind assuming he still gets a chance to toe the rubber Wednesday in New York.

A quick note: I’ll be away from my computer for most of the day today as I’m running in the Tough Mudder out in the Frederick area. I’m not much of a runner, which clearly doesn’t bode well for me for this event, but it should be interesting.

Pete Kerzel will be filling in for me at Nats Park today (check out his entries under Nationals Buzz), and assuming I make it out of the event alive today, I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

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