WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Stephen Strasburg’s aversion to pitching on muggy, East Coast summer afternoons is well known. The San Diego native has long proclaimed his preference to take the mound in cool weather vs. hot weather.
But Strasburg also chose to sign a seven-year extension with the Nationals, making Washington (not to mention the rest of the National League East division) his home for the long-term. And that includes South Florida in March, because the conditions Tuesday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches were just about as uncomfortable as anything Strasburg will face later this summer: 87 degrees, heavy humidity and a strong wind blowing straight out to center field.
After getting hit around by the Marlins to the tune of three runs and eight hits in only 4 1/3 innings, Strasburg could have blamed the weather. But he downplayed it and attributed his struggles to other factors.
“Physically I felt pretty good,” the right-hander said. “Execution-wise, it wasn’t my best. I just chalk it up as another start, getting closer for the start of the season. Focus on the good pitches. There was a lot of outliers there today. ... I’m a little frustrated, but there’s always tomorrow.”
The Nationals had planned for Strasburg to throw five full innings, but his pitch count already was up to 72 when he walked off the mound at the end of the fourth. Given the muggy conditions, manager Davey Martinez offered his starter a chance to call it a day right there.
“It was hot,” Martinez said. “We even asked him: ‘Hey, you want to keep going?’ He said: ‘I’m good. I want to get up to about 80 pitches.’ That’s good. I would’ve been dying.”
Strasburg indeed surpassed the 80-pitch mark, finally departing after facing three batters in the fifth, his pitch total at 81.
He’s slated to make one more start here, Sunday against the Cardinals in the Grapefruit League finale, before heading north for his season debut March 31 in Cincinnati. He probably won’t have to deal with humidity again for months.
“Yeah, that’s a good point,” he said. “I pitched in the Mountain West Conference in college. I’m from San Diego. I enjoy pitching in the cold much more than in humidity. But it doesn’t really matter. I have to give everything I’ve got, no matter what the conditions are. That’s all I can do.”
Meanwhile, Martinez spoke after Tuesday’s game about the club’s decision to demote top prospect Victor Robles to Triple-A Syracuse. The move wasn’t terribly surprising, given the fact both Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo said Robles would only make the big league roster if there was an opportunity to play every day. Once Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor returned from injuries over the weekend, it became clear there would be no opening in the outfield, so Robles was optioned out.
“It had nothing to do with his numbers in spring training,” Martinez said. “He needs to play every day and continue to develop. That’s the big key for him. He’s going to help us win many games, not only this year but for many, many years. We want him to keep developing.”
Robles, 20, is far from a finished product. After getting off to a hot start to begin the spring - he hit .353 in his first seven games - he began to get exposed a bit. He was 3 for his last 31 with nine strikeouts and zero walks, often chasing breaking balls out of the zone.
That will be a point of emphasis for Robles at Triple-A.
“He knows, and we’ve talked about this before: staying on the ball,” Martinez said. “He’s a good fastball hitter. They’re probably going to throw him a lot more breaking balls. He was working out with (hitting coach Kevin Long). We just want to see him get off to a good start.”
What would it take for the Nationals to call Robles back up to the majors? Would they be comfortable summoning him to D.C. if any of the three starting outfielders was injured?
“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “He does a lot of things really well. He’s complete. He runs the bases well. He’s a tremendous outfielder. He puts the ball in play. He’s going to be really good.”