NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals began life without Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday. They did it without note and without fanfare. John Lannan took the mound, the Nationals won. The beat goes on.
Five other starting pitchers were ready to pick up the load but cautious not to feel they have to carry an extra burden.
“If we buy into what everyone’s saying about shutting down Stras, I mean, you’re calling us out of it before it even happened,” said left-hander Gio Gonzalez, a Cy Young candidate with a 19-7 record and 2.93 ERA.
“I think Stras has had a big impact on us, and a big part of why we’re in first place. But at the same time, everyone else has been contributing.”
Strasburg’s shutdown dominated the conversation in baseball for months. He rarely glanced at the clubhouse TVs showing ESPN or MLB Network keeping track of his innings. The ace right-hander joked about his options, realizing he could either scour the Internet for other people’s opinions or he could stay tuned to the Golf Channel and continue pitching until he was told he couldn’t any longer.
The Nationals surged to the best record in baseball. Their offense hit more home runs after the All-Star break than any other team. And still, everyone wondered what they would do without Strasburg.
“What people don’t understand is that he’s done so much for us, but at the same time, everyone has done the same,” Gonzalez said. “You look at all the positives that came with [Strasburg]. He’s the main reason why we’ve all stepped up. … No one expected us to go this far. We’re still making headway. We’re still shocking people and now all of a sudden, Stras is gone and we’re automatically out of it?
“We’re still winning. We just won the series in New York. Now we’re going to Atlanta to get that series. … We wouldn’t be here without Stras. We want him here. But we all knew it was coming, this day. It’s not a shock to us. We’re going to still continue to play our baseball. We’re going to still continue to be who we are. It’s not going to change.”
Edwin Jackson stressed not changing his approach, noting, “We have to get that job done regardless of the situation.” Ross Detwiler said the attention paid to Strasburg actually was a boon for the rest of them, allowing them to flourish with the cameras pointed elsewhere.
“He kind of deflected a whole lot of media attention away from the rest of a team that has been playing very well,” Detwiler said. “I think a guy like me, it helps me a little bit because I don’t get caught up in everything.”
Neither manager Davey Johnson nor pitching coach Steve McCatty has addressed the topic with the other starters. Both said it wasn’t necessary to remind them that their responsibilities have not changed.
“We haven’t talked about it,” McCatty said. “Everybody’s made much more of a big deal than we have. All the guys have pretty much known what was going to go on. … We always talk about, don’t do more than you’re capable of doing. That’s it.”
Without Strasburg, the starters have a 3.65 ERA since Aug. 1. While some have thrived in that period — Gonzalez has a 2.20 ERA and is averaging 7⅓ innings — others have fallen off. Jordan Zimmermann, the NL Pitcher of the Month in July, has a 5.31 ERA and is averaging 5⅓ innings. Jackson’s ERA is 4.69 in that time.
To Johnson, that has nothing to do with Strasburg or his shutdown.
“Sometimes, this time of year in a pennant race, guys get amped up in this situation,” Johnson said. “They weigh every pitch more. Since that’s happened, my starters haven’t done the things they’re capable of doing. They’ve all thrown a lot of pitches. Jackson was real deliberate. Even Gio was missing. Zim was trying to overthrow.
“There’s no way you can educate them. They’ve got to experience what happens, and then they learn from that. Experience is the only way you learn about your emotions and how they can escalate, and you can try to do too much. You go back to what you did to get to this point in the season, your numbers, and that’s the learning experience.”