It was clear to all watching that Stephen Strasburg wanted no part of pitching coach Steve McCatty or assistant trainer Steve Gober coming out to the mound to check on him in the seventh inning of tonight’s 2-1 Nationals win.
Two starts removed from a stint on the disabled list due to a lat strain, Strasburg had stretched his side a bit after allowing a two-out double to Josh Rutledge in the seventh, prompting McCatty and Gober to hop out of the dugout and go ask Strasburg if his side was OK.
Strasburg quickly sent McCatty and Gober away, then retired pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin on a foul pop-up behind third base to end the seventh. Ian Desmond’s solo homer in the bottom of the seventh gave the Nats a lead, and eventually gave Strasburg a win for just the fourth time this season.
“He’s fine,” manager Davey Johnson said of Strasburg. “He was real mad at Cat for running out there. I think Cat was a little worried. I didn’t have him on a pitch count, but Cat did. He was at 92 pitches and when he kind of stretched, (Cat) was real worried, just like the Mother Hen that he is. But Steve was real kind of hacked off. He said, ‘I can stretch, can’t I?’ That’s how competitive he is.”
The animated discussion between Strasburg and McCatty didn’t end on the mound. The two had another semi-heated conversation in the dugout after that half-inning, as well.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Johnson said with a smile. “‘What are you coming out there? I’m just stretching. I was fine.’ But he calmed down, especially after we scored.”
Strasburg ended up allowing just one run on five hits over his seven frames. He walked none and threw 95 pitches, a reasonable amount for a guy who struck out nine.
“He threw great,” Johnson said. “I thought he threw great. His curveball was working. His changeup was working. And he had a really low pitch count. Next time out, if he’s in the same situation, he can go farther.”
Strasburg came into tonight having received the second-lowest run support of any starter in the majors. As a result, he had just three wins despite his 2.50 ERA coming in. Tonight, the Nats got him only two runs, but it was enough.
“We haven’t scored him practically nothing,” Johnson said. “He hung around on the bench rooting the guys. It was a big win for him. And for us.”
Drew Storen came on for the eighth after Strasburg was pulled and ended up in quite a jam, needing to work to Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer with the potential game-tying run at second after he walked Dexter Fowler and committed a throwing error to put Fowler in scoring position. Storen got both Gonzalez and Cuddyer to strike out, preserving the Nats’ 2-1 lead.
It was a perfect example of what Storen preached all the way back in spring after the Nats went out and got Rafael Soriano this offseason - that even if Storen isn’t working the ninth inning, he still can end up pitching with the game on the line and may even find himself in a bigger spot than if he came on for the final three outs.
“No question about it,” Johnson said. “He had the tough part of the lineup. He threw some real close pitches (to Fowler), I think 1-2, 2-2, and then he missed bad on 3-2. But he made a good play on the bunt. He needs to work on that little flip pass. That was awful. But he really pitched their two toughest hitters in the lineup really tough. He’s actually pitching more. (Bullpen coach) Jimmy Lett just came to me saying, ‘What was he coming in there throwing Gonzalez changeups and backdoor sliders?’ I said, ‘I like that. He’s pitching.’ Everybody knows he throws hard. It keeps him back a little better. And when he did throw the fastball to Gonzalez after a lot of junk up there, it just froze him. I like that.”
Storen has struggled this season against left-handed hitters, but he got one of the league’s biggest power hitters in Gonzalez.
“No question, one of the toughest hitters in the league,” Johnson said. “Instead of just going after him and trying to blow him away, he backdoored, changeup on him and then came in right after him with the inside heater. I like that. That’s the old Drew right there.”
Desmond’s homer was his third in as many days, giving him 12 on the season. All three of his homers in these last three games gave the Nats the lead. This one came when Desmond, a notorious first-ball swinger, looked at the first two pitches he got from Manny Corpas.
“He normally would be swinging at anything close at that time,” Johnson said. “That was more patience. And he hit the fastball where it was pitched - it was out over the plate - instead of trying to pull it. He’s been good at that. He’s something special, no doubt about it.