When he struck out 10 Braves over six brilliant innings last week, everyone wondered if the Nationals really would shut down Stephen Strasburg in the middle of a pennant race.
And when he was tagged for seven runs over five suspect innings last night, everyone suddenly wondered if the Nationals might just shut down their young ace on the spot.
The man who ultimately will make this decision, thankfully, isn't quite as impulsive as fans, media members and the various experts out there ranging from John Smoltz to Terry Bradshaw who all believe they know what's best for Strasburg.
Mike Rizzo wasn't going to prolong Strasburg's season based on one dominant start, and he's not going to cut it short based on one lousy outing.
But make no mistake, it was a lousy outing: seven runs (five earned) on nine hits in only five innings. He exhibited no command of his fastball, couldn't adjust to the Marlins' aggressive approach against him and on more than one occasion lost focus with runners on base. (Letting 36-year-old, 270-pound Carlos Lee steal second without even drawing a throw? Unacceptable.)
Worse was that Strasburg picked the absolute worst time to author the biggest clunker of his career, with the Nationals stuck in a four-game losing streak and desperately needing a win over the last-place Marlins to get themselves back on track.
Instead, Strasburg kick-started the Nationals' worst loss of the season, a 9-0 trouncing that extended this team's skid to five games and moved everybody one step closer to declaring a state of emergency for a ballclub that has avoided adversity all season.
Is it time to panic? No, not yet. It's a five-game losing streak, but the Nationals still hold a comfortable position atop the NL East and haven't let the Braves gain too much ground on them.
But the time to stop the bleeding is now. Another loss in tonight's series finale in Miami would leave the skid at six games and would probably send the Nationals into a tough weekend series with the contending Cardinals with a sense of doubt about themselves for the first time in a long time.
Ross Detwiler: Time to step up and show you can be counted on to win big games down the stretch and beyond.
As for Strasburg, time to put this disaster of a start in the rear-view mirror and focus on Sunday's big outing against St. Louis. The Nationals have no intention of shutting him down after that game -- Davey Johnson has indicated he'll make at least two, maybe three more starts beyond that one -- but he certainly doesn't want to hit his home stretch on a sour note.
Strasburg called last night's game "a big learning experience for me" when speaking to reporters afterward. We'll find out Sunday what exactly the young right-hander learned from the worst start of his career and how he applies it to his next outing.