“It was pretty scary,” Johnson said.
Strasburg knew Saturday, with a temperature of 104 degrees at game time, would be brutal. Other Nationals players adjusted, too, chugging Pedialyte. Shortstop Ian Desmond opted for a sleeveless shirt under his uniform and adjusted his socks to help with the heat.
“Obviously I want to go out there and compete and I expected a lot more of myself,” Strasburg said. “By no means was I going out there thinking I wasn’t prepared for it. I did everything I could to be ready for it as far as hydrating and everything.”
But Saturday wasn’t just hot, it was borderline unbearable. With a high temperature of 106 degrees, it was the hottest day in this city’s history. Yet 26,491 brave souls sat in the stands for the game.
From the start, there were signs Strasburg wasn’t himself. He labored against the very first batters of the game, walking Michael Bourn and Martin Prado. He threw deliberately and slowly walked around the mound between pitches. One of the hardest throwers in the majors hit only 95 mph on the scoreboard radar gun. Sweat collected on his forearms and neck. By the second inning, his shirt and pants were soaked.
Strasburg exited the first inning unscathed thanks to two strikeouts and a flyout. He also escaped the second inning without issue. But in the dugout, Strasburg wasn’t speaking with pitching coach Steve McCatty like he normally does. Standing in the tunnel that connects the dugout to the clubhouse, Strasburg was breathing heavily. Catcher Jesus Flores came out to the mound to calm him down.
“ ‘Hey, breathe. Take your time. Just trust yourself,’ ” Flores said he told his pitcher. “But I knew at the same time, the weather wasn’t easy to handle.”
In the third inning, Strasburg unraveled. He walked consecutive batters with one out, missing with his usually explosive fastball. Right fielder Jason Heyward took an outside pitch and smacked it the opposite way into left field for a run-scoring double. First baseman Freddie Freeman drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Then Strasburg’s worst nightmare strode to the plate: second baseman Dan Uggla.
Hitting a measly .235, Uggla seemed like no sort of threat. Strasburg had struck him out in his first at-bat on fastball. But Uggla has proved to be one of the few hitters to get to Strasburg, going 6 for 11 with two home runs in his career off him before Saturday.