ATLANTA - Perhaps not surprisingly, Stephen Strasburg didn’t have much to say about his plunking of Justin Upton in the bottom of the first inning tonight (or should I say, last night, given that it’s 3:00 a.m.) or his ejection after throwing behind Andrelton Simmons in the second.
Asked bluntly whether he intended to hit Upton in the first, when he drilled the Braves’ top power hitter with a 97 mph fastball in the backside, Strasburg declined to discuss the matter.
“I’m not gonna get into that,” Strasburg said.
Strasburg got out of the first inning allowing just the one run on Jason Heyward’s solo homer leading off the frame, but he needed to wait quite a while before taking the mound in the bottom of the second. The Nationals put up two more runs on Braves starter Mike Minor in the top of the inning, and Strasburg then had to sit through a pitching change when manager Fredi Gonzalez went to his bullpen.
When Strasburg finally did get back on the mound for the bottom of the second, he threw seven pitches, all of which were balls. He walked Jordan Schafer on four pitches and then threw three straight wild pitches with Simmons in the batter’s box. The first one was way outside and the second two were behind Simmons.
After the third wild pitch, home plate umpire Marty Foster ejected Strasburg, who put his head down and walked off the field without saying a word to Foster.
“Just a couple long innings right before there,” Strasburg explained, when asked about the wildness. “Just got a little cold. Just missed some spots. ... I can’t really explain it. Just didn’t really feel good out there and couldn’t hit the spot.”
Strasburg didn’t seem to take issue with the ejection at the time, and he didn’t after the game, either, knowing the circumstances and how the pitches behind Simmons probably looked.
“Sure, yeah, makes sense,” Strasburg said.
In the Nationals clubhouse, Strasburg’s plunking of Upton got plenty of support given what had happened in the past couple of weeks. Bench coach Randy Knorr said he was “proud” of Strasburg, and he wasn’t alone.
“Whether it got away from him or not, he’s got my respect,” Adam LaRoche said. “I was impressed.”
Craig Stammen seemed to feel the Nationals were owed one after the repeated plunkings of Bryce Harper by Braves pitchers recently. On Friday night, Harper was hit twice, including on a high fastball from Luis Avilan that got Harper on the left triceps.
“I mean, they’re just throwing at us to throw at us,” Stammen said. “(Avilan) can say he didn’t do it on purpose, but he hit him in the back arm, which isn’t even close when the guy’s been throwing strikes all the time. So, I mean, you can say whatever it is, but the game will always police itself.
“And credit to (the Braves’) hitters, when they got hit, they walked down to first base, they took it like men and that’s kinda how it is and it should be over now.”
But will it be over now?
“Yeah, I think so,” Stammen said. “You never know. Somebody might come in and throw at one of our guys and then it starts all over again. That’s just the merry-go-round of it and it’s a part of what this game’s been built on for a very long time. And hopefully it’s over.”
The Braves didn’t sound too surprised that Strasburg acted the way that he did by hitting Upton.
“It was bound to happen almost,” Minor said. “Not that we really tried to hit anybody the other day, but it was kind of just, we thought maybe it was going to happen. Then when it did, it was just over with. There was no thought of retaliation or anything like that.”
“It’s whatever,” Heyward said. “For us, it was like if it happens, all right big deal, if not, big deal. So whatever. We’re just playing baseball. We’re competing, having fun. It’s a part of the game. You just hope no one gets hurt or severely injured in those situations and after that, boys be boys.”
As for Strasburg’s wildness in the second, the Braves seemed more confused by it than anything else. They aren’t alone in that department.
“I don’t really think (it was ill-intended),” Gonzalez said. “I think it was just one of those situations that is, from my point of view, it’s over with. We played the rest of the game. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with him physically at that point, Strasburg, because it just didn’t look right.”