Believe it or not, Stephen Strasburg didn't have his best
With the bases loaded in the seventh inning last night and Eric Hinske at the plate, the Nationals and Braves were still tied. Stephen Strasburg, still just a rookie, still in just his fifth start, was on the mound. His pitch count had climbed past 80. Manager Jim Riggleman never even considered taking him out.
"With all due respect to our pitchers," Riggleman said, "there's nobody I can put in there to try to get us out of there better than Stephen."
Strasburg is obviously the best the Nationals have, even when he believes he is not at his best. Strasburg last night talked about battling through his start and being human. For most pitchers, shutting out the Braves over six innings and allowing three runs following a crucial in the seventh is something to celebrate. For Strasburg, it was something to endure.
"When you have those type of outings when your stuff is not really there, the top pitchers in the league are going to get through it," Strasburg said. "For the most part, I did well enough. I kept the team in the ballgame. But things aren't working for us right now. We've got to keep our heads up. We've got to go out there and keep working hard."
After throwing an unreal 75 of his 95 pitches for strikes in his last start, Strasburg did falter with his typically precise control at times. He threw first-pitch balls to 15 of the 25 batters he faced. He walked Chipper Jones, the leadoff batter in the seventh, on four pitches.
"Can't really place too high expectations on myself out there," Strasburg said. "I understand I'm not going to have lights-out stuff every time out. I'm human. I really tried to go out there and overcome all the obstacles. I don't really know what the obstacles were, but I just wanted to go out there and battle. That's what being a good pitcher is."
Falling behind early in counts led to Strasburg using his curveball less than in any other start. Of his 92 pitches, Strasburg threw about 10 curves, about 50 fastballs and about 30 changeups. He used the abandonment of his curve as a lesson for future starts.
"Definitely, next time around, if my pitches aren't working I'm going to have to stick with them a little bit more," Strasburg said. "Because I'm going to need them. I can't just eliminate one pitch because it's not really working early on. They're going to figure it out pretty fast when you're only throwing two pitches."
Again, even though Strasburg believed he was not at his best, he held one of the National League's best lineups to zip, zilch, nothing for six innings. Because of that rough seventh inning, it wasn't good enough.
"I feel for him," Riggleman said. "I feel for the whole ballclub. We're all agonizing. We're going through a real tough time - one of the tougher times that I've been through as I've been fortunate enough to manage in the big leagues. This is one of the tougher stretches I've experienced. I know the players feel that way. Stephen feels that way. He did his job for us."
Strasburg has run into scorching opposing pitching. The Nationals' bats have stayed silent while he's been on the mound. Riggleman credited the other starters.
"Maybe they just said, 'You know what? I'm going to match up with this guy, and I'm going to beat him,' " Riggleman said. "They got pride, too. The opposing pitchers going back to Pittsburgh, they all threw great games against us."
Strasburg was not at his absolute best last night. And he still provided the Nationals a chance to win, a chance they again could not take advantage of.
FROM THE POST
Stephen Strasburg again received little support in a 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves last night. The Nationals have scored one run in his past three starts, and Ian Desmond pitched in a critical error.
Dan Steinberg praises Rob Dibble for crushing the Nats.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 9, Pawtucket 4: Jason Botts went 2 for 3 with a home run and 5 RBIs. Shairon Martis allowed three earned runs on six hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. Josh Wilkie pitched a perfect ninth and lowered his ERA to 1.67.
Harrisburg 3, Portland 0: Aaron Thompson, Jack Spradlin and Adam Carr combined for eight hitless innings. Zech Zincola lost the no-hitter by allowing a double in the ninth. Thompson allowed no hits in six innings while walking six and striking out six. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 3.
Kinston 6, Potomac 5: Stephen Lombardozzi went 3 for 4 with a home run and a walk.
Hickory 2, Hagerstown 0: Daniel Rosenbaum allowed one earned runs on four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out four. Eury Perez went 2 for 3.
Vermont 2, Tri-City 0: Ronnie Labrie went 2 for 3 with a home run. Taylor Jordan allowed no runs on two hits and three walks while striking out five in five innings.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Howard Bryant and Jerry Crasnick debated whether Stephen Strasburg should be an All-Star this year.
Strasburg is improbably exceeding expectations, Tyler Kepner writes.
Closed to where he grew up, Matt Capps is thinking about his late father, Guy Cutwright writes.
June 29, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
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