“He was out of sorts today,” Johnson said.
Strasburg shook off his funk in time to preserve the Nationals’ victory. After his second balk, Strasburg retired 10 consecutive Marlins. Zimmerman led off the third with his home run and Desmond scalded an RBI double to right-center field. In the fifth, Ramos’s RBI single and Anthony Rendon’s run-scoring triple gave Strasburg a lead he would not relinquish.
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“It can go two ways,” Strasburg said. “You can kind of let that affect you and carry that into the next inning. I didn’t want to do that, especially with the way we’ve been swinging the bats. I knew if I just kept it close they were going to bust open.”
Johnson thought Strasburg should have pitched deeper into the game, but he pulled him after the sixth, which Strasburg began by hitting Donovan Solano in the ribs with a fastball. “You can’t be doing that,” Johnson said.
After he exited, Strasburg and pitching coach Steve McCatty talked in the dugout for about 15 minutes, the conversation at times growing animated.
“Just a normal conversation between a pitcher and the pitching coach,” Strasburg said. “Leave it at that. Not everybody needs to know about it.”
McCatty spoke to Strasburg about “some of the things that he shouldn’t let be issues with him,” Johnson said. “There’s some times he takes issue with certain things that happen during a ballgame and they shouldn’t have any bearing on what’s going to happen in the ballgame. He’s better than that.”
In a season of constantly waning expectations, the Nationals had never seemed further from relevance. Entire sections of the cavernous stadium remained empty. Noise echoed off the walls. Fans looked like small islands in an ocean of empty blue seats. The Nationals finished Sunday eight games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild-card spot with only 20 games to play. After the Reds won last night, the margin was back to eight games.
“I don’t think about that,” Soriano said. “We’ll win and see what happens. That’s what everybody here needs to focus on. Win, play better games, and whatever happens. I don’t think watching the games, watching everything that happens. No, I don’t do that. I don’t like it. When I’m done, I watch something else, listen to my music, that’s it.”