Strasburg is rocked in his return
Wednesday, August 11, 2010; 12:05 AM
Stephen Strasburg had played long toss in the outfield and thrown his usual allotment of warmup pitches, Miguel Batista leaning on the back wall of the bullpen as he finished. He had walked the 300 or so feet from the Washington Nationals' bullpen to the first base dugout. He had climbed the mound, the White Stripes blasting. "I felt really good," Strasburg said later. Everything was back to normal, until the game started and it wasn't.
Strasburg returned from the disabled list Tuesday night, or at least one version of him did. It was not the Strasburg you have come to know, not the same phenom who for nine starts lit the baseball world on fire. In an 8-2 loss thrashing by the Florida Marlins, Strasburg endured his shortest and nastiest outing as a major leaguer. Strasburg allowed six earned runs in 41/3 innings, walking two and allowing six hits, all of them for extra bases, and two strikeouts of batters other than the opposing pitcher.
Before Tuesday, Strasburg had not allowed more than three earned runs or lasted less than five innings in a start. On July 16, he held these Marlins scoreless for six innings. The inflammation in his right shoulder was not a culprit. His shoulder felt "a lot better than it has in the past," Strasburg said afterward.
The reasons for Strasburg's struggles, then, were many: a Marlins lineup that had taken lessons from their first meeting; rust from not pitching since July 21; just one of those days; a combination thereof.
Whatever the cause, Strasburg had no command of his pitches and resembled his typical self only before the Marlins attacked his pitches. Before 25,939 at Nationals Park - the smallest crowd to watch Strasburg in the majors, home or away - Strasburg experienced another first in his unforgettable rookie season. He was rocked.
"I just went out there and expected a little bit too much of myself instead of trying to go out there and do what I've been doing," Strasburg said. "This is the first time in the relatively short career that I've had where not one pitch I felt like I had control of it. I've got to chalk it up as a learning experience.
"I'm a little disappointed because I really went out there not focusing on the one thing that you've really got to focus on: just going out there and competing and going with what you have. I spent the whole time worrying about trying to fix what was going on instead of letting it go."
And, whatever the cause, Strasburg could not muster his most overpowering stuff. Coming into the game, Strasburg's average fastball traveled 97.3 mph. He threw fastballs in his usual 97-99 mph range for the first three innings, even blowing a 100 mph heater past Cody Ross on the first pitch following Dan Uggla's home run in the first inning. In the fourth and fifth innings, though, Strasburg threw only one pitch faster than 96 mph, his fastball typically hovering at 95.
The Marlins, before Tuesday night, had missed 23.4 percent of the pitches they swung at, the second-highest rate in the league. Strasburg induced only seven swinging strikes, three of those by starting pitcher Anibal Snchez.
According to the Marlins' Hanley Ramírez, the difference in Strasburg on July 16 and Strasburg on Tuesday night wasn't the pitcher's command, but the fact the Marlins were getting their second look at him.
"It's all about seeing his release point and knowing where the ball is coming from," Ramírez said. "The first time, you don't know where his release point is. This time, you know what to expect."
Since his scratched start two weeks ago, Strasburg adopted a new program between starts. "I'm definitely taking a more professional approach to how to take care of my body and my arm," Strasburg said. "It's a lot longer season. I just switched things up a little bit, targeting certain areas, really trying to work on the flexibility."