Timing Stephen Strasburg and a few other odds and ends from a crazy Nationals win

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Stephen Strasburg surrendered three runs on three hits in six innings Friday night. A quality start, by definition, but one that turned decidedly un-Strasburg-like after the third inning. Strasburg, who hadn’t surrendered a home run since Adam LaRoche hit one off him in August of 2010, gave up two.

“I just left a couple pitches up,” Strasburg said. “It’s an adjustment and it’s just one of those games where they made me pay for it. Just a couple pitches that could’ve gone differently, whether they decided to swing at them or not.”

But the home runs aside, one other interesting aspect of Strasburg’s night was that it seemed the Phillies were timing his motion to the plate extremely well. So well that they stole two bases off him easily and something the Nationals coaches spoke with him about during the game.

“I think what bothered him a little bit in the ballgame was, they were timing him,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “When he would go into a set position, they were going ‘One, one-thousand’ and then just taking off. He was starting to commit on that count. (Phillies third base coach) Juan Samuel and a few of the boys over there are famous for picking up guys getting into a rhythm. And that’s why (Hunter) Pence took off. Everyone’s yelling, ‘Step off,’ but he’s committed to going home. I think that somewhat unnerved him.

“And the same situation when Pence was hitting. He was a little concerned about varying it, that they were timing him. We kind of brought it up to him during the game, which I don’t like. I don’t want him thinking about stealing the base. He’s quick to the plate. That’s something he needs to think about probably between starts.”

Strasburg, for his part, acknowledged that he has a tendency not to focus on baserunners. His first thought is with the batter and he’s assuming that, if there’s a runner on, he’ll be able to coax a double play. He also knows it’s something he must improve on.

“It’s something I need to be better at,” he said. “I try and be quick out there to give the catcher every opportunity, but when they’re leaving before I even make my move to home plate, it’s pretty much a free base. So I need to do a much better job.”

“Teams are going to try and do that off me. They’re going to try and bunt, so I need to be able to field my position. They’re going to take every opportunity to try and steal a bag to put them in scoring position, because obviously they feel like it’s going to be a close game.”

– Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang threw six innings Friday night for Single-A Hagerstown, the second rehab start for the sinkerballer as he works back from a left hamstring strain. Wang allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. 

The Nationals can keep Wang on a rehab assignment until May 27, a period of 30 days, and with all of their starting pitchers — especially Ross Detwiler — pitching as well as they are, it’s fair to speculate that the Nationals will keep Wang working his way back to full health as long as possible.

– Johnson spent a good portion of his pre-game press conference on Thursday talking about how Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel needed to get things going offensively. Friday night, Espinosa was 2-for-3 with a walk, Ankiel 3-for-4 with an intentional walk. 

One game doesn’t immediately break a funk and I think we can all agree that Espinosa’s skid seemed worse than Ankiel’s, but Friday night was a start.

“I felt better,” Espinosa said. “Definitely felt better. My hands felt quicker. I didn’t feel like I was dragging my bat so when my hands feel quick I feel like I can see the ball deeper. I can see the ball longer so I don’t feel like I’m guessing or jumping at the ball. So it did feel good tonight.”

– The contributions of the Nationals’ bullpen on Friday night shouldn’t be overlooked. They put up five scoreless innings in relief of Stephen Strasburg, allowing the Nationals all the time they needed to make their comeback. Ryan Perry, who made just one major league appearance this year outside of his inning Friday night, particularly turned in an important 1-2-3 frame in the top of the 11th. 

Since Johnson used five of the Nationals’ seven relievers, leaving only Ryan Mattheus and Sean Burnett untouched in the bullpen (although Burnett warmed), safe to say the Nationals need a lot of innings out of lefty Gio Gonzalez on Saturday.

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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