After a few pitches during his five-inning struggle in a Nationals win Saturday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg flicked the fingers on his right hand and shook his arm. It was an action that launched 1,000 theories and even more worries. Had he hurt his arm? Was it another sign of the “biceps tightness” Davey Johnson referenced after his last start? Is he breaking down after Tommy John surgery?
It was not a sign of a physical issue at all, Strasburg said. His flicked his fingers because in the sticky Atlanta heat, he could think of no other way to get the sweat off them.
“I wasn’t really shaking it out,” Strasburg said. “It was so hot out there that I just had sweat dripping off my hands. That’s just something I do to get the sweat off my hands. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing it so you guys wouldn’t be so alarmed. It’s hard, because my whole jersey is soaked, too. When I wipe, when I try that it just gets even more sweaty. I need to maybe get my sweat glands taken out of my hand, I don’t know.”
This is how scrutinized Strasburg is when it comes to his health: he is contemplating how to get the sweat off his fingers so as not to send up any red flags. He and his manager maintain Strasburg’s right arm is just fine after his 95-pitch start Saturday.
“There’s nothing physically wrong with him,” Johnson said.
Physically, perhaps not. But his performance has been, compared to his mile-high standard, lacking. In his last three starts, Strasburg has not recorded an out past the fifth inning and has allowed nine earned runs over 14 innings.
Saturday, Strasburg had a stunning lack of control, especially with his fastball. He threw a whopping 37 offspeed pitches; one of his at-bats comprised only four change-ups to Juan Francisco. He fired 51 balls in 95 pitches, including 18 out of 24 in one stretch.
“I threw way too many balls, basically,” Strasburg said. “Sometimes you just can’t find the strike zone. I struggled with it all day. I don’t know what it is. I’m just going to try to let it go and try and do better next time.”
With his fastball, Strasburg missed the plate to the outside or inside far more often than high or low. He seemed to open his front shoulder too early, causing him to pull the ball across his body and throw over the left side of the plate (outside to a right-hander). He adjusted, but then threw balls over the right side of the plate.
“I was trying to figure out what I was doing mechanically that was causing me to cut the ball across the plate and pretty much just yank it every single time,” Strasburg said. “I tried one thing, and it wouldn’t work. I tried another thing, and that wouldn’t work. It was just one of those days.”
Even after his recent struggles — again, that’s a relative term — Strasburg is 5-1 with a 2.64 ERA in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. He may have spoiled us with his amazing start to his season.
The fitness of an arm that throws a baseball 100 miles per hour will be always be an issue. But we also have to learn that sometimes, a guy just wants to get sweat off his hands.