The Nationals' 2-1, 11-inning loss to the White Sox has to be one of the tougher defeats of the season to take, simply because of what it represents: That not even Stephen Strasburg, their brand new ace, can overcome the woes of their offense.
They continued a habit of making mediocre pitchers look dominant on Friday; in fact, as good as Strasburg was, you can't say definitively that he outpitched Chicago starter Gavin Floyd, who allowed one run in eight innings. Floyd was nowhere near as flashy as Strasburg, but against an offense that can't draw walks right now, he didn't have to be.
The Nationals are 31-37, and while I'll have a more detailed look at this later today, it bears repeating that they cannot afford to fall much further below .500 than they are now if they want to make any kind of meaningful run this summer. They have problems that need to be fixed fast, and Strasburg isn't enough to do it.
On with the awards:
Stephen Strasburg: Gee, you think? The 21-year-old was electric again, striking out 10 in seven innings and just 85 pitches. He's struck out 32 batters in 19 1/3 innings; over a full, 220-inning season, he'd have 364. Or, as reader SteveRep44 - the creator of "Clip and Save" - suggested last night, Strasburg could soon be the best 401K in Washington (seriously, why isn't this guy on Letterman or Leno's writing team? God knows Leno could use him). People keep talking about how Strasburg needs to get groundouts, but he's able to work quick when he needs to; he had a 10-pitch and an eight-pitch inning last night. And if he can strike out that many batters on that few pitches, why change anything?
Tyler Clippard: The White Sox entered the game with fewer strikeouts than any team in the American League, but after Strasburg left the game, Clippard came in for two more in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 inning. He's given up one run since May 18. The only surprise was that in a tie game, manager Jim Riggleman didn't leave him in for the ninth.
Matt Capps: On a night where not much other than the Nationals' pitching was working, Capps did his part with a perfect ninth inning, getting through on eight pitches and keeping the game tied. It's worth noting that in an 11-inning game, the Nationals only threw 141 pitches.
Ian Desmond: After grounding into a double play in the third inning, Desmond singled in the sixth, but got picked off first base to end the inning. That's two threats aborted on a night where the Nationals couldn't generate much on offense.
Ivan Rodriguez: A rough night for the catcher at the plate; he was 0-for-4, and grounded into a double play in the second inning.
In Case You Missed It:
--Most of Strasburg's 10 strikeouts came off his changeup, a pitch he hadn't thrown much in his first two starts. He used the pitch - which comes in between 88-93 mph with downward movement, to take advantage of an aggressive White Sox lineup, which made him throw only 85 pitches in seven innings despite the strikeouts. "He's been throwing it in the bullpen, and I like the changeup and the way it moves, so I just use it," Rodriguez said. "We use all the pitches. We used fastball, we used the curveball, we used his changeup. We used the changeup late in the count to strike out guys."
--On Juan Pierre's first inning single that led to the White Sox's only run off Strasburg, Pierre beat Strasburg to the first-base bag by a couple steps. Strasburg said he hesitated for a split-second on the way to cover first, giving Pierre the half-step he needed.
--Drew Storen, who worked the final two innings and gave up winning run in the 11th, said the act of getting up, beginning a warmup in the bullpen and sitting down didn't bother him. "That's part of the bullpen role. You're going to have that," Storen said. "I was happy with the way I was able to go to innings. I felt like my stuff was there."
--Ryan Zimmerman's fateful throwing error, which came after one of the great stops of his career in the 11th inning, was on a hurried overhand attempt to first after he dove to his right to stop Alex Rios' smash down the line. Zimmerman looked like he could have set himself for a split-second, and he usually throws sidearm to first base. He's made a couple errors on overhand throws, but Zimmerman said throwing overhand wasn't an issue. "I can throw the ball overhand when I need to," Zimmerman said. "My arm's been fine. I think when I need to throw it hard, I throw it hard. Tough play, tough game.
1. With Strasburg as dominant as he was, how tough is this one to take? How discouraging is it to lose on a day when Strasburg is pitching, knowing what the rest of the rotation is doing right now?
2. How concerned are you with the offense, especially with most of the Nationals' recent losses coming against pedestrian pitchers, Justin Verlander notwithstanding? The team's on-base percentage is 22 points lower in the last 33 games than it was in the first 35. Have you perceived a lack of plate patience lately?