Strasburg allowed six runs in only four innings and seemed shockingly vulnerable. A journeyman named Kevin Frandsen crushed a two-run, opposite-field home run, his first major league homer since 2007. Phillies starter Cliff Lee singled and stole a base against him. Jimmy Rollins ripped an inside-the-park home run. Strasburg’s night ended after he batted for himself in the fourth inning, having yielded eight hits and thrown 65 pitches.
Strasburg lacked his best stuff and location. “I think I threw one fastball down the way I wanted to — the first pitch of the game,” Strasburg said. “Other than that, everything was up.”
But his mental approach suffered, too. As the Phillies jumped on him, Strasburg let frustration change his approach. Rather than relying on easy, precise fastballs — as he did when he struck out 11 over seven shutout innings last Wednesday — Strasburg tried to make perfect pitches.
“It’s just a long grind and you can’t be totally dominant every time you go out there,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He expects it of himself. He makes a bad pitch, and the guy hits it out of the ballpark, it makes him try harder. . . . When he’s not hitting spots and not missing bats, he loses a little bit of his cool demeanor.”
Only once in his career had Strasburg allowed more than four earned runs. He had failed to make it out of the fourth only once, not counting starts he made last year as he essentially rehabbed in the majors.
“When you’re always falling behind, you’ve got to really fight yourself, and just keep on trying to pitch and let it happen,” Strasburg said. “I had a tough time trying to get back in that groove tonight.”
The Nationals slogged to one of their uglier losses without Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, both sitting out with apparently minor back problems. Both are expected to return Wednesday, but Tuesday the Nationals used Mark DeRosa and Tyler Moore as their corner infielders. Lee shut down the Nationals’ diminished lineup, allowing five hits and one walk over seven scoreless innings for his second win of the season.
Before Tuesday, the Nationals had in effect lapped the Phillies twice over. The Nationals stood above them in the division by 16½ games. The Phillies, at 45-57, shipped outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, respectively, an official admission that their reign had ended.