Stephen Strasburg failed to pitch out of the fourth inning Saturday afternoon, and the Washington Nationals’ six-game winning streak came crashing to an end with an 8-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cole Hamels allowed only one run over eight stellar innings, limiting the Nationals to a handful of infield singles and a lone RBI double by Ian Desmond. Philadelphia’s offense, meanwhile, had its way with Strasburg, whose ERA ballooned to 6.50, third-worst in the major leagues.
THE RUNDOWN: Strasburg cruised through the first inning and pitched around a rare error by Ryan Zimmerman in the second, but his outing began to fall apart in the third. The inning began with a leadoff walk to Ben Revere, followed by two doubles and a home run by Maikel Franco. The struggles continued in the fourth, when the Nationals committed three errors and Strasburg allowed two more runs, one of which was unearned. The bright side for the Nationals? A.J. Cole allowed only four hits and two runs over 4 1/3 innings of relief, striking out seven and saving the Nationals’ bullpen.
THE HIGHLIGHT: So there weren’t exactly a lot of Nationals highlights to choose from Saturday afternoon. This is more of an oddity. It came in the sixth inning, with the Nationals already trailing 7-0. With a runner on first and no outs, Cesar Hernandez ripped a would-be double to the gap in right-center field. Harper’s relay throw skipped past both Ian Desmond and Dan Uggla for a would-be error, allowing Hernandez to go to third. These are all would-be events because Hernandez neglected to touch first base. The Nationals realized this, and Ian Desmond tossed the ball to Ryan Zimmerman for the out. For all the scorekeeping aficionados out there, the play was originally ruled an unassisted putout by the first baseman. It was later revised and scored as a 6-3 putout (Desmond’s throw came after a misplay, and therefore was the only one that counted). Hernandez was credited with the RBI. So there you go.
STAR OF THE GAME: It was difficult to tell if the Nationals lineup was just really struggling Saturday or if Hamels was really dominant. Though it was probably a combination of the two, I give a lot of credit to Hamels. The left-hander absolutely silenced a Washington lineup that had, in recent weeks, been rolling. The Nationals mustered only five hits against Hamels, and three of them were infield singles. A fourth slipped past third baseman Franco and was ruled a double.
THE TAKEAWAY: Alright, so by this point it’s clear that something’s up with Strasburg. The question is what, exactly, is up with him. The usual narrative is that he doesn’t respond well to mistakes and is easily derailed by errors or miscues in the field behind him. At times over the past three seasons, I think that’s been true. But I’m inclined to think that during this particular stretch, something else is amiss. The ankle injury that Strasburg suffered in spring training lingered through the first month of the season, eventually causing him to alter his mechanics and creating stiffness in his back. Are his mechanics still out of whack? Is the ankle still bothering him, even minimally? It’ll be interesting to see what Strasburg — and his manager — offer as an explanation, if anything.
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