Perhaps it is the nature of his talent that as often as Stephen Strasburg inspires excitement and awe, they’re often coupled with worry. Perhaps it’s just his own personal medical history, which is in truth not unlike so many other pitchers, that the fear of losing him from the game again seems to crop up so quickly.
But in the midst of Stephen Strasburg’s gem Friday night, leading the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 win over the Rockies in one of their most textbook victories of the season — good pitching, timely hitting, and strong defense — the right-hander bent at the waist and stretched for a second.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty almost immediately popped out of the Nationals’ dugout, and a trainer followed moments later.
“(McCatty) was real worried, just like the Mother Hen that he is,” said manager Davey Johnson.
Strasburg, just one start removed from a disabled list stint for a Grade 1 strain of his right lat, insisted he was fine. He finished the seventh inning on a 95-mph fastball that got Tyler Colvin to pop the ball into foul ground and allowed Ryan Zimmerman to make a tremendous over-the-shoulder catch to end the inning.
Strasburg hit 97 mph with the fastball earlier in the frame and his offspeed stuff was electric, helping him get nine strikeouts while keeping his pitch count fairly low. He threw just 95 pitches on the night, and, aided by some terrific defensive plays, kept the Nationals within reach of their third straight victory.
And just before Ian Desmond would win it for him, just before the Nationals’ slugging shortstop clubbed his 12th home run of the season — and third in the last three games — to leadoff the seventh inning, Strasburg and McCatty had an animated discussion in the dugout.
“Steve was real kind of hacked off,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘I can stretch, can’t I?’ That’s how competitive he is… But he calmed down, especially after we scored.”
“I’m not a kid anymore,” Strasburg said. “I think the only reason why he came out is because he saw Desi come up and talk to me (after a two-out double to left field), but you know, Desi just told me ‘Hey, let yourself pitch.’ You know, I should be allowed to stretch a little bit out there… No big deal. Obviously he cares about me and wants everything to be OK, but there was nothing to be worried about.”
The same could be said for the Nationals on this night, as they moved back above .500 for the first time since Sunday.
They even made a winner out of the usually criminally unsupported Strasburg, who gave up one run in the third inning, when Zimmerman’s RBI-double into the right field corner tied things up in the sixth, and Desmond won it in the seventh. It was Desmond’s third straight game-winning RBI.
The Nationals’ reserved right-hander pumped his fist and shouted after Zimmerman made the catch to get him out of trouble in the seventh, and stayed in the dugout to see his teammates put him in line for his fourth victory of the season after Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano closed it out.
“We haven’t scored him practically nothing,” Johnson said. “He hung around on the bench rooting for the guys. It was a big win for him. And for us.”
The Nationals had not won three consecutive games since May 4-10, when they won five in a row. On so many occasions this season, they’ve talked about trying to find the run that will key them to the prolonged winning streak they’ve lacked.
Wednesday night in Philadelphia they wondered if they’d found it. Thursday night, behind Jordan Zimmermann, they thought maybe they were onto something. Now, they’re on a winning streak.
“I think most of all we’ve been playing better baseball,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the most important thing. When you get wins and kind of win ugly, they’re wins and they’re great but it doesn’t kind of really get that momentum going.
“The past four or five games we’ve really started playing like we should have been playing. Hopefully that’ll carry over into some more wins.”