Stephen Strasburg operated at the full extent of his considerable ability for most of Monday night. And then, confronted by the dark side of his powers, he momentarily lost them. A fastball that leaves Strasburg’s hand is often a thing to behold, one of the most powerful acts in baseball. One wrong flash — a misplaced finger on a seam, a torso twisting a millisecond early — and it may become a projectile flying at another man’s head.
Strasburg did not lose last night because he accidentally hit Marco Scutaro in the head with a fastball. He lost because the Nationals scored two runs at Coors Field off Jeff Francis, giving them 25 runs over their last 10 games. But the turning point came after a sinker slipped out of his hand and drilled Scutaro. He entered the sixth inning with a one-run lead. Three batters after the hit by pitch, Strasburg had lost the lead. After the inning, his night was over.
“It’s part of the game,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’ve all been hit. I’ve been hit in the coconut a bunch of times. I never blamed the pitcher. I know he’s trying to come inside. He certainly wasn’t trying to hit Scutaro there. It probably affected him. I don’t want to make more of it than it is. It’s just part of the game.”
Strasburg was not even aiming up and in with the pitch. With Dexter Fowler on third base, Strasburg wanted to throw a sinker that Scutaro would drill into the ground. But the pitch “got away from me,” Strasburg said, and it ricocheted off Scutaro’s helmet with an awful thud.
Strasburg immediately yanked the cap off his head, a sick look on his face. A trainer rushed from the dugout and tended to Scutaro. He rose to his feet, the trainer’s arm around his neck, and bent at the waist. Scutaro walked off under his power. The Rockies later said Scutaro was considered day-to-day with an unspecified injury. After a few warmup tosses, Strasburg returned to work.
“You think about it for a second and you hope that he’s okay,” Strasburg said. “But once I saw him walk off, I figured he’d be okay.
“It happens,” Strasburg added. “It’s part of baseball. You try and get in. Obviously you never want to hit a guy in the head, but it happens. You’ve just got to go out there and keep trying to pound the strike zone.”
Carlos Gonzalez — aided when Strasburg may have been squeezed on a 2-2 fastball — singled, Michael Cuddyer singled, Todd Helton hit a sacrifice fly and Strasburg had lost the lead. The Nationals’ offense could not get it back for him. Strasburg ultimately felt he pitched well, and he flashed some of his comically subtle cockiness.
“I felt good,” Strasburg said. “I went out there and pounded the strike zone. It just seems like they’re just hitting it right beyond our gloves, basically. That’s baseball. They did a good job of battling up there and they weren’t trying to get too big. They were just trying to take what was given to them, and regardless of how bad it looked, they got some hits.”
Strasburg struck out eight, which increased his league-leading strikeout total to 118 in 90 innings. In his first foray into Coors Field, he did not let the high altitude affect him. It may have been his first time facing the Rockies, but he still relied on experience.
Playing for San Diego State, Strasburg pitched at many visiting parks across the Mountain West Conference that required him to pitch at altitude — Air Force, Utah, New Mexico, BYU and, to a certain extent, UNLV.
“It’s a little different,” Strasburg said. “Your pitches aren’t going to move the way they normally do, so you’ve just got to try to focus on trying to command it and not really throw it to make more break out of it. When you try to put a little more break on it, it hangs a little bit. I was lucky enough to be able to pitch in elevation in college and just be a little accustomed to the way it comes out of my hand. Just have to roll with it. The other guy is dealing with the same things.”
The experience from his college days also encouraged Strasburg for his next start. He had his six-start win streak snapped. But he hopes to begin another one soon once he gets out of the thin air.
“Typically when we’d go back home, our stuff was really dirty,” Strasburg said. “So I’m hoping for that for Atlanta.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 10, Gwinnett 6: Corey Brown went 1 for 4 and Mark Teahen went 3 for 3 with two walks. Erik Komatsu, Chris Marrero and Jim Negrych each drove in two runs. The Chiefs won their eighth straight.
Harrisburg 9, New Hampshire 8: Designated hitter Tim Pahuta, shortstop Zach Walters and first baseman Justin Bloxom each hit home runs.
Wilmington 7, Potomac 3: Cole Kimball started, pitched two scoreless innings, hit one batter and struck out another. He has allowed only two hits in four innings of work in his rehab so far.
Hagerstown 7, Delmarva 3: Center fielder Brian Goodwin smacked a double and finished 1 for 4, and left fielder Caleb Ramsey finished 3 for 3 with a triple.
Auburn 7, Jamestown 2: Right fielder Angelberth Montilla went 3 for 4, and is 10 for 30 in seven games so far.