ATLANTA - And so we wait.
The Nationals didn’t provide much firm information last night on the status of Stephen Strasburg, who manager Davey Johnson said was dealing with some forearm tightness following his start against the Braves.
They’ll need to monitor Strasburg this afternoon and in the days ahead before really knowing where things stand and how to handle any health issues involving the 24-year-old right-hander.
Strasburg said multiple times last night that he felt good on the mound, but didn’t provide direct answers when asked specifically about the forearm tightness to which Johnson had referred.
Johnson, meanwhile, said he was “really concerned” about his ace and that it was too early to know whether Strasburg would need to miss his next start, which would come Saturday against the Pirates.
Strasburg clearly didn’t like being questioned about his arm, but when you’re the much-hyped ace of a playoff team from a year ago who has had Tommy John surgery in the past and was battling control issues and seen shaking and rubbing his forearm, people will wonder about your health.
Had Strasburg been moving his arm around so much between pitches during a start in which he had better location, it might’ve been a different story. But Strasburg’s control was off from the get-go last night, especially with his fastball.
For whatever reason, Strasburg has struggled mightily in the first inning this season, posting a 10.50 ERA in that frame and a 1.72 ERA from the second inning on. He’s actually allowed more earned runs in the opening inning of his six starts (seven) than he has in the other 31 1/3 innings he’s worked combined (six).
Strasburg said he’s not able to pinpoint why he struggles out of the gate. His intensity and high level of emotion entering starts might play a factor. His mechanics might be flawed. To this point, the Nats have been unable to find a cure for the first-inning issues.
If there’s a positive to be taken out of Strasburg’s outing last night, it’s that despite the apparent forearm tightness, his most effective inning - far and away - was his last.
After allowing 10 baserunners in his first five innings, Strasburg really picked things up in a powerhouse sixth, striking out the side. That included a K of Dan Uggla, who singled in his first two at-bats last night and had been 11-for-22 in his career off Strasburg entering that sixth-inning plate appearance.
Strasburg dialed his velocity up to 97 mph on his final two pitches of his outing to get B.J. Upton to strike out swinging. If Strasburg was battling a tight forearm, it didn’t show on the radar guns.
“I felt like I was getting on top of the ball and driving it down in the zone,” Strasburg said of his strong sixth inning. “When I get that feeling, all my pitches kind of fall into place.”
It was a nice capper to an inconsistent outing, and it probably left Nats fans wondering why it took Strasburg six innings to find that kind of zone.
As I mentioned last night, Strasburg can tend to fall victim to the immense expectations that he’s built up for himself. Many have come to expect seven-inning gems from Strasburg every time he steps on the mound, and if he walks a few hitters or fails to work deep into a game, people wonder what’s wrong.
Last night, we were wondering what’s wrong for a different reason.
The question now is whether Strasburg will be able to take the ball in four days or whether the Nats will need to look for another option.
For what it’s worth, Chris Young would be on normal rest on Saturday, but the veteran right-hander has a 9.00 ERA in two starts for Triple-A Syracuse, having allowed 17 hits and five walks in 10 innings.