The Nationals’ 8-5 loss to the Braves had ended only minutes earlier when Davey Martinez summoned Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer to his office and closed the door. It would be roughly 15 minutes before that door reopened, and though no one was revealing the precise details of what was said during that meeting, it was clear the session was necessary after what transpired in the dugout during the top of the fifth.
Strasburg, who had just been removed by Martinez after allowing six runs in 4 2/3 innings in a disappointing return from the disabled list, got a pat on the back from Scherzer upon arriving in the home dugout. He sat down on the bench, at which point the two star right-handers got into an animated conversation that lasted only a few seconds before Strasburg got up and stormed down the steps toward the clubhouse, Scherzer right behind him.
Scherzer eventually returned to the dugout and watched the remainder of his team’s disappointing loss in its second-half opener, one that dropped the Nationals back under .500 and left them 6 1/2 games back in the National League East, chasing both the Phillies and Braves.
Strasburg, as is custom for most starters when they leave a game, remained in the clubhouse through the final out, then offering no insight about the nature of what happened between him and Scherzer.
“It’s part of family, man,” he said. “You got to be in the family.”
Martinez was a bit more forthcoming. The rookie manager didn’t give out details, but he did speak more broadly about a situation he both tried to downplay as commonplace yet still required a 15-minute closed-door meeting with both parties.
“I wouldn’t say it’s par for the course because it doesn’t happen every day,” Martinez said. “But like I said, it does happen. We move on. We learn from it. We move on. These guys, they’re competitors. But they’re teammates. as well. They’re good, and I expect them to be good from here on out.”
Scherzer, who started Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park and is scheduled to make his second half debut Sunday afternoon, did not appear in the clubhouse while reporters were in the room.
Whatever words were spoken between the two pitchers, this much was clear: None of them probably would have been necessary had Strasburg provided the boost his teammates were hoping for in his return from a six-week absence due to shoulder inflammation.
Physically, Strasburg appeared to be fine, pumping out upper-90s fastballs like he has throughout his career. But he gave up eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, most of them well struck by a good Braves lineup. And he wilted in the top of the fifth, unable to complete the frame as his pitch count rose to 98.
“He was a little inconsistent for him today, but that’s to be expected first time back out there,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “But he did show signs of his good breaking ball and his good changeup. It’s just about being able to repeat it like we know he has done and he will do.”
With a smaller-than-usual, six-man bullpen coming out of the All-Star break, the Nationals were counting on a quality start from Strasburg. Instead, he found himself facing an uphill battle from the get-go and couldn’t even complete five innings.
“You want to try and be more efficient than that, for sure,” he said. “It just didn’t work out that way.”
But about that dugout conversation. It certainly didn’t rise to the Code Red levels seen here (Jonathan Papelbon vs. Bryce Harper, anyone?) and elsewhere around baseball over the years. But neither was it something to simply brush aside.
“This stuff happens. I’ve been on teams where guys wanted to choke each other,” said Martinez, probably unaware what image that immediately conjures up in D.C. “It’s a long season. They get it. They understand. We talk about it. I don’t want to lose sleep about it. It was a really good conversation. I’ll just leave it at that. Things are good.”
“The way I look at it, they want to take ownership,” the manager added later. “I gather that’s what it was about. They sat there, and there’s two guys that are very competitive, and they got heated up and that was it. Tomorrow, they’ll be hugging probably and laughing and joking, and we’ll move on.”