It was fairly evident early on Friday night that Stephen Strasburg was not himself. He was throwing an awful lot of balls, he was darting in and out of trouble, his pitch count was unsustainably high.
Strasburg worked five scoreless innings before the Atlanta Braves got to him for four runs in the sixth. The Nationals’ nine-run lead continued to evaporate as they suffered arguably their most crushing loss of the season.
After the game, Nationals manager spent the majority of his post-game press conference lamenting his mistakes. He called it “arguably the worst game I’ve ever managed,” and was obviously distressed about the outcome and his role in it.
But he reserved some of his comments for Strasburg and they were perhaps more critical of the ace than they have ever been.
“He felt like he was missing but I felt like he just wasn’t going after them,” Johnson said. “He wasted a lot of pitches. He really doesn’t know who he is at times. He doesn’t trust his stuff.”
“Both pitchers had the same kind of thing,” Johnson added. “They were nibbling. I can understand maybe their guy (Tommy Hanson) a little bit, but Stras is better than that.”
Strasburg finished the night with 5 1/3 innings, eight hits, four earned runs, three walks and five strikeouts. He threw 103 pitches but only 57 of them were strikes.
He said he felt he was being as aggressive as he normally is. He felt he was pitching off his fastball and pounding it inside.
“I think for the most part I was eating them up inside all night,” Strasburg said. “The last inning I just left a couple pitches elevated over the plate and they made me pay for it.
“I wasn’t striking everybody out and I wasn’t going 1-2-3, but that usually never happens anyway. They’re a good team. They’re taking a lot of close pitches they could have swung at, but they didn’t. That’s really out of my control. I was just trying to pound the strike zone and I was just missing a little bit tonight.”
Johnson, it seems, didn’t view it exactly the same way.
“It was a little avoiding contact, trying to make too good of pitches,” the manager said. “I know they’re a pretty good-hitting ballclub but he’s got pretty good stuff. Having him at 100 pitches in the sixth inning… he used up a lot of pitches. He came out unscathed but he threw a lot of pitches.
“Another thing, too, when you throw a lot of pitches to hitters they get a better gauge on you. It’s easier to hit. You see two, three fastballs missed, it’s easier to start gauging somebody. It’s a lot tougher when you go right after them and we’ve got to put it in play, try to put it in play.”