“It’s something where, the last few starts I’d feel it warming up,” Strasburg said. “I’d go out there and I wouldn’t feel anything. Tonight, it was more kind of like the reverse. I felt really good in the bullpen. I threw a couple pitches in there, and it started to tighten up. I felt it more and more. Nothing I could do about it. I’m kind of frustrated.”
As Strasburg digested the news that he would not pitch, even if his prized, surgically repaired right arm had been spared, another dose of optimism had drained from the Nationals’ season.
Out beyond the right field fence at Turner Field, in the Nationals’ bullpen, Craig Stammen sprung out of his seat. The right-handed long reliever prepares each day for emergency, and here was the biggest — the Nationals entered a .500 team, and their resurgent ace sat in the clubhouse with 21 outs to record against the National League East rival they trailed by 51/
Word of Strasburg’s ailment had spread to Stammen and bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo. In the first inning, Robledo told Stammen, “Be ready. His shoulder’s hurting.”
“He’s throwing 98,” Stammen replied. “His shoulder’s not hurting.”
Then Stammen started seeing Strasburg grimace.
“The second inning, you could just tell he was laboring a little bit,” Stammen said. “He just didn’t look the same. So, I guess I kind of got ready. I was praying he could keep going.”
Stammen’s performance could not overshadow the black cloud Strasburg’s injury presented, but he lifted the Nationals to a potentially galvanizing victory with four dauntless relief innings, retiring all 12 hitters he faced while recording three strikeouts. The Braves had prepared for Strasburg’s high-90s heat and disappearing change-up, and Stammen baffled them with his darting sinker and a devastating slider.
“I’m pretty sure once Stephen came out, those guys were like, ‘Ooh, we got to the long relief guy,’ ” center fielder Denard Span said. “Stammen came in and did a hell of a job.”
In the seventh inning, Tyler Clippard rode down a mountain in an 18-wheeler with the brakes cut and escaped with mere scratches. He allowed a run and loaded the bases with one out by hitting consecutive batters with pitches. He then struck out Dan Uggla, and with his 32nd pitch of the inning, he got Chris Johnson to chase an 83-mph change-up in the dirt.