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Strasburg reminds everyone what a difference he can make

Aug 9, 2015, 12:13 AM EST

AP

Nights like this, when Stephen Strasburg takes complete ownership of a baseball game and renders any opposing lineup (no matter the talent within it) helpless, can leave you with mixed emotions.

Yes, this kind of performance — 12 strikeouts, zero walks, one run allowed over seven innings — causes a crowd of 37,115 to rise as one and cheer every third strike and salute the right-hander with a lengthy ovation when he departs the mound for good. But it also causes those same people to turns wistful, to have those “what-if?” feeling crop up and lament what might’ve been had Strasburg been able to do this on a more-regular basis.

Thing is, this win over the Rockies didn’t come out of the thin-blue sky. Strasburg has done this plenty of times in his career. Actually, more often than not. Shoot, he was doing it before his season was derailed by another DL stint five weeks ago.

Bet you didn’t realize that over his last four starts — three before he strained his left oblique muscle, plus Saturday’s return in a 6-1 victory over Colorado — Strasburg is now 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, 30 strikeouts and four walks. Bet the sight of him taking the mound for the first time since July 4 left you fearing the worst, not expecting the best.

Strasburg’s teammates know you feel that way. They just don’t understand why.

“I think for some reason, people have always been very hard on him no matter what,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “If he does well, it’s not good enough. If he does bad, then it’s kind of like the ‘I-told-you-so’ thing. This guy, he’s the worst best pitcher I’ve ever seen in my life. This guy gets no credit for what he’s done since he basically came out. To see him throw the ball like that, that was fun to watch.”

Indeed, it was. And it should offer everyone ample reason to believe there’s plenty more of it still to come.

Strasburg looked nothing like a pitcher coming off a month-long DL stint, nor one who entered with a 5.16 ERA and serious questions about his standing in the bigger picture. He looked like a guy who has been in a groove for weeks, not on the shelf.

His fastball command was spot-on, with 78 percent of those pitches thrown for strikes. His changeup was effective enough, if occasionally off-target. And his curveball was devastating, a knee-buckler that accounted for five of his 12 strikeouts.

“He’s one of the best in baseball when he’s out there doing his thing,” right fielder Bryce Harper said. “Painting 98 on the black, reaching 99 sometimes … great curveball, good changeup … he’s got four ‘plus’ pitches. He’s very good out there, and when he’s in control he’s unhittable.”

For all his struggles at times earlier this season, Strasburg was still consistently throwing the ball hard, striking batters out and limiting walks. His 9.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate is right in line with his career standards. His 2.4 walks-per-nine-innings rate also falls right in line.

Strasburg just was giving up more hits than he usually does, struggling with his fastball command and perhaps his pitch selection at times.

“I feel like my feel for my pitches has always been there,” he said. “I think it’s just knowing what I want to do with it in certain spots. I’ve just been working hard and continually preparing as much as I can for these guys, and trying to have a good game plan.”

The plan worked to perfection Saturday night, not only on the mound but at the plate. A one-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Strasburg stepped up to bat for the first time with a goose egg for the season in 16 at-bats. He wound up going 3-for-3, raising his season batting average a mere 158 points.

“He can really hit!” manager Matt Williams said with a big smile when he thought about Strasburg’s outing.

It was a night that warranted plenty of smiles. The Nationals coasted to an easy victory. The Mets actually lost a game for the first time in nine days, bringing their lead in the NL East down to 1 1/2 games.

And the man who has been an enigma much of the season showed everyone once again just what he can be, and what he could mean to this club down the stretch.

“It’s definitely been an up-and-down year and it’s been a huge learning experience,” Strasburg said. “I’m excited to have another opportunity and go out tomorrow and get ready for the next one.”

You should be excited about it, too.

  1. adcwonk - Aug 9, 2015 at 1:01 AM

    (Stras, and RZ, and Ramos to LoD: we ain’t dead yet!)

    + 37!

  2. scmargenau - Aug 9, 2015 at 1:22 AM

    We need another outfielder. With spAns chronic back and worth looking lost …who’s the call up?

  3. abqnatsfan - Aug 9, 2015 at 1:24 AM

    That was a really impressive performance. Now we can root for Max to give us a series win tomorrow.

    • natsfan1a - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:19 AM

      Indeed. Particularly since I will be in attendance today. 🙂

      • natsfan1a - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:20 AM

        On topic, yeah, SS looked great last night.

      • scmargenau - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:27 AM

        Enjoy! Looks gorgeous out!

  4. scmargenau - Aug 9, 2015 at 1:26 AM

    Ugh! Mark plz get a better comment module and disable the black top menu WordPress plugin. Just bad UX. there are dozens of comment mods that allow editing, like/dislikes etc. and plz move the report button. With the traffic on this blog it’s a shame to see usability not maximized.

    • laddieblahblah - Aug 9, 2015 at 6:57 AM

      I look at the minor league results almost every day. Right now, the best minor league option they have is Den Dekker. Goodwin is probably the next best bet, but I wouldn’t make the call for him. He has been struggling all year long. The best that can be said of him is that he seems to have rediscovered his power stroke and his base-running skills. The stretch run of a pennant race is not the place to try and find your game, again.

      They have some very promising young talent, but guys like Stevenson are still years away.

      MW seems content to run CRob’s bat out there whenever he thinks he needs some pop, and CRob has been coming through at the plate. The guy can hit. And, honestly, the way Werth is playing LF these days, it is not much of a drop-off in defense with CRob out there, instead. His arm is actually better than Werth’s.

      Maybe Werth comes around, maybe not, but with Zim driving the ball consistently and the Buffalo coming through in clutch situations, again, Werth’s bat is not as important as it might otherwise be. Someone has been talking to Desmond, and he clearly has been listening. If Zim, Ramos and Desi keep coming through behind the top of that order, the Nats have more than enough offense to carry them the rest of the way.

      Span’s return would be icing on the cake, and would allow Matt to use Taylor in LF, but everyone, probably including Denard, are wondering if Span will be well enough to play again, at all, for the remainder of the year.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:18 AM

        Brian Goodwin is hitting .222 in AA Harrisburg. He also has been charged with an un-gawdly 8 outfield errors. I really think that he has hit “bust” status.

        The Nats need to pick up an outfielder off the waiver wire. Matt den Dekker is a likable guy, but he is not a 4th outfielder that you want for a stretch run, imho.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        “And, honestly, the way Werth is playing LF these days, it is not much of a drop-off in defense with CRob out there, instead. His arm is actually better than Werth’s.”

        Werth now has a noodle arm and his giddyup on getting after balls just isn’t there.

        As bad as CRob is on defense he’s actually better than Werth and who could imagine saying that with any seriousness.

        The answer is either you ramp up Espi for LF, bring back den Dekker, or make a trade for a stud unless you absolutely believe Span will be back.

      • zmunchkin - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:03 AM

        Players say all the time that guys that see a lot of pitches help them team. And Werth has the reputation of seeing lots of pitches. So I decided to look at the PitchFx data (I have downloaded all the day from April 6 thru Friday). I ranked all the players with at least 100 ABs (decided on that limit instead of 3.1 times the number of games to include Werth, et al, while removing players without many ABs).

        My thinking was that if this is true and he ranks highly, maybe he is not as much of a liability as he adds value in other ways. I can’t judge whether this is true. But I can get the data to see if it is even something to consider :-).

        There are 378 players with at least 100 ABs. Here is how the Nats ranked among all of MLB

                                 Pitches
        Rank   ABs  Player        per AB
           7   131  Rendon         4.290
          14   159  Werth          4.245
          16   111  Lobaton        4.225
          28   433  Harper         4.162
          83   224  Robinson, C    4.000
         133   157  Moore, T       3.911
         163   128  Uggla          3.859
         181   281  Zimmerman      3.836
         258   338  Taylor, M      3.695
         269   265  Span           3.675
         289   343  Espinosa       3.633
         295   428  Desmond        3.617
         341   338  Ramos, W       3.476
         373   410  Escobar, Y     3.312
        

        I to say a few of these surprised me.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:46 AM

        Ghost, I am not writing Werth off yet, and nor do I think that the team is quite ready to do that. That said, they do need a quality 4th outfielder. As much as I don’t like the idea, I would put Danny out there before I’d go with denDekker. Ideally they pick up somebody else. That was a weird deal yesterday between the Braves and Cleveland involving Bourn, Sizemore and Johnson.

      • virginiascopist - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:00 AM

        Bourn, Swisher and C. Johnson

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:27 AM

        Opps,brain freeze. Swisher and Bourn for C Johnson. Odd deal for both teams.

      • Doc - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:40 AM

        Interesting data, munch.

        Thanks!

  5. laddieblahblah - Aug 9, 2015 at 6:42 AM

    The Nats have always known there was a generational talent lost in a maze of mechanical flaws, intermittent injuries, and recurring self-doubts. Kudos to the Nats coaches and trainers for pulling him out, tweaking his mechanics, smoothing out the injury kinks, and restoring him to his rightful place as a pre-eminent pitching talent of his generation.

    What a sight for sore eyes to see that guy back out on the mound and dealing like he did last night.

    • veejh - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:49 AM

      That it was. I had my doubts he would pick up where he left off. That curve was filthy last night and his FB had pretty good movement.

      He’s gonna have to stay clean shaven for the rest of the season now.

    • Another_Sam - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:16 AM

      Right on. Where has this guy been?

    • 3on2out - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:07 AM

      Thom Loverro on AM 980 radio this past Friday that SS would carry the team to the playoffs by being dominant in his remaining starts this season. It seemed possible that he was onto something Friday and it seems like more than just wishful thinking this morning.

  6. rayvil01 - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    The entire season has been a test of patience complete with a month of tease (May).
    “Will Desmond stop making errors?” Followed by, “Will Desmond ever break out of his slump?”
    “Will Fister return to form?”
    “Will the lineup ever heal?”
    “Is RZ, JW, and/or Span done?”
    “Will Strasburg ever be what we thought he’d be?”

    And a dozen others that culminate with, “Will this team catch fire in time?”
    The answers to all of those questions are still unknown. We get glimpses and clues which lead the impatient to leap to conclusions. The season didn’t end on April 26 as someone posted. It didn’t end on Carlos Gonzalez Grand Slam Night as many others posted. It isn’t ending until it ends when some of these questions are going to be answered. If you think you have all the answers nailed now, you’re probably wrong. The one least likely to be answered fully is Strasburg. That will probably take more time. Stay tuned for more clues.

    We only have one definitive answer for a question raised this year: “Who the hell is Joe Ross?”

  7. edshelton2013 - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    So, if Span doesn’t return, what happens to his market value? I’m assuming someone will offer a 2-3 year contract, based on his recent track record.
    Will Rizzo opt for a QO, an extension or let him walk?

    • Section 222 - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:01 AM

      It’s a quandry. I don’t think Rizzo wants to pay him $14 million or so next year, but he’d also love the draft pick. After his injury plagued season, you’d imagine that Span would jump on $14 million for a year. But with MAT developing into a potential star, I don’t think there’s a place for Span on this team next year.

      Alot depends on his health, and Rizzo will have the very best information there is on how likely he’ll be back to full strength. Even that information, however, is not 100% reliable.

      So my guess at this point is no.

  8. Section 222 - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:22 AM

    The 18-gamer returns. It’s been awhile, perhaps as a result of a kind of depressing up and down season. But I still enjoy looking at the developing season through this lense, and hopefully some of you do too.

    Let’s look at the 18-game stretches so far:

    7-11 – That awful start. Not a season killer, obviously, but a cautionary note for sure.
    12-6 – Uggla’s home run in Atlanta ignites a run that puts the Nats back in the driver’s seat in the division, even though they were still a game and a half back after 36 games.
    10-8 — Winning 8 of 9 to start the set was promising, but then came a sweep by the Reds and we were back down to earth, still a half game out of first place.
    10-8 – More inconsistent play, but by the end of the set, we’re in the middle of an 8-game winning streak and have finally taken over 1st place in the NL east as the Mets falter.
    10-8 – Another solid though unspectacular stretch straddles the ASG, with the highlights being a great home sweep against the Giants, and taking the series in Camden Yards. By the end of this stretch, we’re still up by 2 games in the East. (Remember that consistently going 10-8 doesn’t sound that great, but it wins you 90 games in a season.) Losing 2 of 3 to the Dodgers at home to close out the set is a sign of tough times ahead, particularly since there’s a bunch of aces lined up to face us.

    And so we reach the most recent 18-game set, the 6th out of 9. And instead of keeping up that 90-win pace, the Nats slid badly. Granted, we faced some very good starting pitchers, but this was not what was needed coming out of the All Star break.

    We showed signs of life in winning a series at home against the Mets against their big three starters, but then lost 3 of 4 to the Pirates at PNC Park and got swept by Mets at Citi Field by that same trio. We did manage a series win in that abominable marine green ballpark at Miami but only a split against the D-backs at home. And then came Friday night’s crushing loss. Kind of a reverse Uggla.

    And so, for the 18-gamer that concluded the second third of the season, the Nats could win only 7 games, matching the season low opening 18-gamer back in April. If Nats don’t’ make the playoffs this year, we’ll look back at this set as the one that really set off the alarm bells. Certainly we were at code orange on this blog on Friday night. And we know we’re in a dog fight, at least until the Mets pitching staff starts getting shut down.

    Time for another Uggla-like inspirational game winning hit? Or maybe just a solid performance like we saw last night by Stras. Let’s hope that his outing was what we needed to turn things around. It’s going to be a very interesting 54-game sprint to October.

    • natsfan1a - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:40 AM

      Thanks for the info. Not thanking heaven for 7-11, and hoping for better results going forward. 🙂

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    Last night evidence that strikeout pitchers don’t have to have huge pitch counts. Nibbling is for squirrels.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:25 AM

      Well yah, you don’t need to run up 3-2 counts on everyone. Gio still hasn’t learned what a reachback fastball is. Strasburg pitched brilliantly last night.

      • rlndtln - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        I like your 3 options on LF Ghost.I want denDeker here now until you can decide if there is another option.I do not believe we need Danny as Werth playing against lefties and Rob against righties works.We need for the 100th time a capable defensive outfielder to replace either late in a game.Also if we had DD we could pinch hit for MAT late in a game we are behind.The other option you mention to get a trade is great.When?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:39 AM

        I assume Rizzo has been waiting on a trade for a final determination on Span.

    • dryw4nats - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      Around the sixth inning, I was counting up Ks in my scorebook, just for fun, and then I glanced at the pitch count. I actually asked a friend if the pitch count was accurate! That was some nice work.

  10. rlndtln - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    I mean today.What do we do in the meantime.Call DD up now and drop Fister or Roark and then make the trade.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:03 AM

      MW doesn’t need a 8 man pen if it means he goes with a 4 man bench. What is he going to do with Fister. He got up last night along with Thornton and Fister wasn’t used with a 5 run lead. When will you use Fister?

      • dcwx61 - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:00 AM

        +1…with Roark, he seems redundant out there

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:16 AM

        Understandable that Rizzo doesn’t want to DFA him but if Fister won’t accept a DL assignment until midnight on August 31, you run a man short on the bench. Tough predicament.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:28 AM

        Fister was likely just getting some throwing in last night to get him acclimated to the bullpen routine. Earlier in the game while Strasburg was dealing the only movement at all in the bullpen was from Fister doing stretching and skipping exercises. I don’t think MW had any intention of using Fister last night. The real question is why he didn’t double switch Tyler Moore in for RZ or Robinson when he went to Treinen? He could have gotten two innings out of him and saved Thornton for possible matchups today. Has MW ever done a double switch? I can’t recall one. Maybe he hasn’t read that far yet into the Managing for Dummies book he’s using to guide his career.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:40 AM

        Oddly this was also Fister’s pitch day. With a 5 run lead it would have been a good time to use Fister. My guess after the Friday night debacle is MW didn’t trust Fister as bad as he has been which begs the question why is he there.

        Reminds me of the days when Rizzo had a Rule 5 pitcher + HenRod in the bullpen and the Manager would only use 5 guys in crucial situations.

        Thornton certainly didn’t need to work last night.

        Great point on using a double switch so your reliever could go 2 and not come up to bat. I didn’t see anyone bring that up and begs the question why not.

  11. Doc - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    Time for Fister to develop back spasms—your team needs you to do this Dougie.

  12. paulfortier - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    Out topic

    How about the former catcher Jeff Howell (32 years young), in his Hagerstown Suns debut, yesterday… as a pitcher.

    He threw four innings, allowing only one hit, no walk, and striking out three.

  13. Nats Fan Zee - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    Outstanding performance last night. I tip my hat to him and hope (for Stephen and the team) this is the first of a string of outstanding performances.

  14. unkyd59 - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:50 AM

    I believe I had that…:

    unkyd59 on August 4, 2015 at 7:24 pm
    Welcome back! Now get back in there and make Maxie the #2 Ace in this outfit!!! Light a spark under our butts!!
    GYFNGOGOGO!!!!!

  15. faridrushdi - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    I live in Idaho and when they play the Mariners and Rockies I am blacked out on MLB.tv and have to watch the game on their local channel.

    When Strasburg came up for the first time, the Rockies guy said, “You know, he doesn’t have a hit this year but I remember when he won the silver slugger award. Then, bam bam bam and he went 3-3.

  16. Candide - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    When Strasburg came up for the first time, the Rockies guy said, “You know, he doesn’t have a hit this year but I remember when he won the silver slugger award. Then, bam bam bam and he went 3-3.

    Cunegonde looked at the scoreboard when he came to the plate the first time, saw nothing but zeroes, and asked me, “He hasn’t had an AB all season?”

    “No, it just means he hasn’t had a hit or a walk all season. But you know, he won the Silver Slugger a couple of years ago.”

    Cunegonde rolled her eyes at me.

    And then he got that swinging bunt.

    And then that grounder through the left side.

    And then that liner to left.

    I smiled at her, and she sneered, “It must be a terrible burden on you, being right all the time…”

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:42 AM

      And then he got that swinging bunt.
      And then that grounder through the left side.
      And then that liner to left.

      Sometimes all it takes to get a hitter going is one cheapie.

  17. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:43 AM

    Less than two hours before game time. I hope everything is OK in the New Post department.

  18. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:56 AM

    Escobar
    Rendon
    Harper
    Zimmerman
    Werth
    Desmond
    Ramos
    Taylor
    Scherzer

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:57 AM

      That would be today’s Nats lineup, from Chase’s tweet.

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