- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2015

The first question asked of Stephen Strasburg on Thursday was straightforward. What went wrong in the third inning?

The Washington Nationals right-hander didn’t need to mention Ian Desmond’s error, a difficult hop that spoiled what could have been an inning-ending double play. He failed to mention the following at-bat, in which he hit Lucas Duda with a pitch to load the bases with one out. And he brushed aside the line drive to right field, chopper off home plate and bloop single to center field that eventually resulted in four runs by the end of the inning.

“I don’t think anything went wrong if you look at the contact that they made,” Strasburg said. “It was a lot of very weak contact. That’s just how baseball is sometimes.”

In what was heralded as a matchup of aces, Strasburg watched Desmond’s error from the mound and was unable to recover from it. He gave up nine hits and three earned runs in his first start of the season, which resulted in a 6-3 loss to the New York Mets.

Strasburg walked three batters and struck out five while his counterpart, Mets right-hander Matt Harvey, put on a show. In his first game since Tommy John surgery, Harvey gave up four hits and struck out nine over six scoreless innings. He was dominant. Strasburg was not. But in the Nationals’ clubhouse, that was not cause for concern.

“For me today, Stephen pitched well,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “That’s all I can take from it. That’s all he’ll take from it. And us as a team, that’s all we’ll take. Errors are going to happen. It’s going to go that way sometimes. But we can’t put too much stock in it because we have another one tomorrow.”

Early in his career, Strasburg’s inability to bounce back after a mistake was one of his few weaknesses. When opposing hitters homered, or teammates made defensive miscues behind him, there was a noticeable change in Strasburg’s demeanor.

That was not the case Thursday, when Desmond committed his third error in three games. With one out in the third inning, David Wright hit a chopper that skipped over Desmond’s mitt, ricocheted off his chest and fell to the ground, staying there just long enough for Wright to sprint safely to first base.

“The object is to field the ball that’s rolling to you,” Desmond quipped. “I wasn’t able to convert.”

Strasburg’s demeanor didn’t shift after the error, but his effectiveness did. Williams and Strasburg both pointed to the weak contact the Mets were getting, specifically a chopper by Daniel Murphy that bounced high off the plate for a base hit and a bloop single by Travis d’Arnaud. Yet other pitches were solidly struck. Some fell for hits, and some were within reach of Washington’s outfielders.

When asked if Desmond’s error was frustrating, Strasburg simply said, “You can’t let those things affect you.”

“These guys are going to go out there and give it everything they have every single day,” he continued. “That’s all I’m expecting, because I’m trying to go out there and do the same thing. I know when you face adversity, you want to go out there and pick each other up. I’m going to go out there and try to do that, but it didn’t work out today.”

Strasburg missed multiple spring starts because of a series of injuries, including an ingrown toenail and a sprained left ankle. Considering those circumstances, Williams said, the right-hander was “sharp.” He likened Strasburg’s 95 pitches to the last start of spring training. Despite what the box score might say, his teammates agreed.

“Stras, I think he threw well,” Bryce Harper said. “I think the stuff that he has, it’s unhittable stuff. The Mets just came in here and did what they did against him today.”

The same could be said of New York’s season-opening three-game series in Washington. The Nationals pummeled the Mets last season, winning 15 of the 19 meetings between the two teams en route to the National League East division title. This year, it appears things will be different. The Mets won two of three games in D.C. and held the Nationals’ lineup to six runs in three games.
Afterward, Williams was asked about the Mets, describing them as a team that could be chasing the Nationals in the division race this season.

“Well, right now,” the second-year manager responded, “we’re chasing the Mets.”

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