Despite four days off and a chance to start the season anew after the All-Star break, the Nationals came away with an all too familiar result on Friday night. They got runners in scoring position before blowing chances and ended innings in the most frustrating of fashions.
Stephen Strasburg certainly did his job, regardless of the result, pitching seven strong innings with two earned runs off seven hits. The hits came early as Strasburg retired 11 consecutive batters before getting the hook.
The right-hander battled temperatures that rivaled his pitch speeds and a heat index of 105. And with a history of faltering in hot conditions, Strasburg pulled through and gave his team a chance to win.
“I always just try and drink a lot of fluids and stuff, do as much as you can,” he said. "When I flew in from San Diego on Wednesday I saw it was 95 at like 11 o’clock at night so I knew it was going to be interesting.”
Strasburg famously succumbed to the heat in Atlanta last season on June 30 after pitching three innings on an all-time record, 106 degree day. On Friday in Washington, D.C. it was more about the humidity, which kept Strasburg frequenting the rosin bag on the mound.
Gripping the ball may have been an issue in the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to Los Angeles as each starting pitcher tossed a wild pitch. Strasburg’s came on a changeup to Hanley Ramirez in the first inning that flew over the shortstop’s head.
Ramirez – who has a long history playing against the Nationals - shot a glare to the mound, regardless of the reason for the errant throw.
“I tried to go in and missed up and in,” Strasburg said. “When you throw a pitch, before you do it you gotta make sure you have a good grip on it. It’s no excuse to let humidity affect where your ball goes.”
Ramirez would later capitalize on another mistake by Strasburg, the lone major gaffe of his outing. In the third inning Strasburg threw a 95 mile per hour fastball low and away that Ramirez took opposite field for a two-run homer.
“I thought it was a good pitch, but it’s a guy that’s hot right now,” Strasburg said. “He guessed right. Oh well, you tip your cap.”
Strasburg would let up a pair of singles in the next inning before setting down the 11 straight batters. Overall it was a nice way to start the second half of the season for the pitcher who entered the break coming off two of his worst starts of the year.
“I was able to throw a lot of first pitch strikes and just use a lot of my pitches,” Strasburg said. “I started to get a better feel for my changeup which I haven’t really had in a while now. “
Strasburg had no problem with phenom Yasiel Puig, retiring him three times including a swinging strikeout. He was less fortunate against Ramirez and gave up a pair of singles to both Juan Uribe and Mark Ellis.
The Nationals are now 5-10 this season when Strasburg's allowed three earned runs or less, after going 18-4 under those circumstances last year. Because he didn't get the win he couldn’t be completely satisfied with the outing.
“It’s still a work in progress,” he said.