As Stephen Strasburg plowed his way through his first 16 starts of the season, no two have seemed exactly alike. Strasburg’s talent makes for such entertainment on some nights — like Tuesday when his curveball left the Milwaukee Brewers flailing helplessly, losing their helmets on swings and laughing in disbelief on their way back to the dugout.
And yet many of them have had a familiar feel to them.
Strasburg entered Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Brewers as the least-supported pitcher in the major leagues. Then he went out, fired seven scoreless innings, received no run support, and watched as his gem went for naught when the Brewers scored four runs in the eighth off Drew Storen.
The Nationals have won just six of the games he’s started this season. His ERA (2.24) is the sixth-best in all of baseball.
“He threw his (butt) off tonight,” said outfielder Bryce Harper, who dropped a fly ball in the Brewers’ four-run eighth that led to the final two runs.
“I think if a guy throws like that he should be able to win. He’s done that all year long. That’s why his ERA’s what it is. It (stinks) that we couldn’t score any runs tonight.”
The Nationals scored 13 runs on Sunday afternoon in Gio Gonzalez’s latest outing. They scored 10 more in Jordan Zimmermann’s start on Monday. They were shutout for the ninth time this season on Tuesday, halting the offensive progress that had seemingly begun to roll.
“The other guy pitched a pretty good ballgame,” manager Davey Johnson said of right-hander Wily Peralta. “I didn’t think he was that good… (But) I think the guys feel good. It’s gonna take a little time. Harp hasn’t been in there that much, he’s a little rusty. The next two days will be pretty big for us.”
For Strasburg, it was more of the same. The Nationals have scored three runs or fewer in 13 of his 16 starts this season — and that includes three games that they won. It’s getting to be an old storyline.
“I’m tired of talking about (run support),” Strasburg said, politely but firmly. “These guys battle every single day just like I do and it just didn’t work out for us tonight. I’d like to get over that. I’d like to stop answering questions about run support.”
The question was there, though, because of what could’ve been if only he’d gotten a smidgen of it.
He baffled the Brewers on Tuesday.
Thirty-eight of the 105 pitches he threw were curveballs, and all eight of his strikeouts came on the devastating breaking pitch. Aramis Ramirez lost his helmet swinging at one in the second inning. Peralta chuckled his way back to the dugout after standing in the batter’s box almost as if it were just out of courtesy for him to do so.
“He’s got unbelievable stuff,” Peralta said after the game, first only laughing when the question of facing Strasburg was posed. “The guy throws 100 mph, and you’re not going to be waiting for off-speed, especially when I’m a pitcher. It’s fun. It’s fun to face him. Unbelievable stuff.
“I just laughed at it. Why is he throwing me so many breaking balls? I thought he was going to hit me.”
In the bullpen before the game, Strasburg didn’t like the way his curveball felt. Catcher Kurt Suzuki didn’t think the right-hander had as good a changeup as he normally does — which is usually an unhittable pitch. But the scouting report on the Brewers was that they are a good fastball hitting team, so they knew they’d have to go to his curve. They did. He threw it even more times than he did his fastball (35) on this night.
“Just how it is sometimes,” Strasburg said. “Sometimes it’s not really working in the ‘pen but as soon as you get out there things just click. I thought Zuk called a great game back there. I mean if you keep throwing it, they’re going to keep swinging at it.”
Storen was summoned to pitch the eighth. Strasburg threw 105 pitches and danced out of a two-walk, error-induced jam in the sixth inning, only to finish the seventh with a fist-pump and a high-five for second baseman Anthony Rendon after he and Ian Desmond completed a nifty double play.
The first two batters reached, and Storen, who has struggled to hold runners, couldn’t escape the jam. Logan Schafer stole second easily. Rickie Weeks walked. A one-out, two-run double by Juan Francisco broke the scoreless tie with the Brewers’ first two runs, and then catcher Martin Maldonado’s double bounced off of Harper’s glove to score Francisco.
Maldonado took off for third, the Nationals’ fielders reacted and Jeff Bianchi slapped a single into left to score him.
“He knows they’re going to run on him,” Johnson said. “Needs to speed it up, and I think that probably affected him more than anything. He’s been pitching pretty good and that wasn’t one of his better ones.”
“I just fell behind and left the ball up in the zone,” said Storen, who had posted 15 scoreless appearances in his last 17 before Tuesday. “I’ve got to work on holding runners… and getting ahead of hitters. (But) whether it’s good or bad, I’m showing up tomorrow and will be out there again.”