Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen allowed four runs in six innings today.
Is Scott Olsen capable of sustaining any momentum, or is he destined to vacillate between positive and negative starts? Is Adam Dunn's two-week slump going to derail his entire season, or can he snap out of it in time to finish with the best numbers of his career? And, most importantly, what happens now with Stephen Strasburg, who had already arrived in Washington for his forearm MRI long before this stinker of a ballgame ended?
Let's try to provide some answers to each question...
1. SCOTT OLSEN
Every time you think the left-hander has got something good going, he takes a big step backward. Every time you think he's lost on the mound, he rebounds with a big performance.
Today's four-runs-in-six-innings start fell in that murky, gray area between good and bad. It came on the heels of a strong start in Atlanta, which came on the heels of a wretched start against the Marlins.
Olsen has now appeared in five games since returning from the DL, during which time he's going 1-4 with a 7.77 ERA. Not exactly encouraging numbers, which makes you wonder if Olsen is still searching for the form he had before shoulder inflammation sidelined him in May.
"I wouldn't say I'm searching for stuff," he said. "I feel like I've got good enough control with the fastball right now. I can locate it to both sides of the plate. And I feel comfortable with my slider and changeup. So I wouldn't say I'm searching for anything."
Olsen's biggest area of concern, he said, is his penchant for letting one inning get out of hand. He nearly did it again today in the sixth, allowing a two-out, two-run single to No. 8 hitter Wilson Valdez. Only the presence of Roy Oswalt in the on-deck circle kept the inning from spiraling out of control.
"We were able to do that today, but it was the pitcher coming up in the sixth," he said. "We could have said we shut down that inning if it was a position player coming up instead of the pitcher and we got him out. But I would say in terms of working on stuff, minimizing damage within one inning is something I need to work on."
Olsen — who has earned $600,000 in incentives his last three starts and will continue to earn another $100,000 for each start he makes the rest of the way — will continue to get chances to work things out. Jim Riggleman said he will remain in the rotation moving forward.
2. ADAM DUNN
There was no hitter in baseball more torrid earlier this month than Dunn, who hit six homers in six games to open August. Since then, though, there may not be a hitter in baseball more horrid than Dunn. Over his last 14 games, he's batting a paltry .122 (6-for-49) with 23 strikeouts.
Today, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, lowering his batting average to .262 (its lowest point since May 29) and looking totally uncomfortable at the plate in the process.
"I think most power hitters do that," Riggleman said. "You just keep running them out there. And when they come out of these funks, they usually come out with power. I think you'll see with almost all the guys who end up with 35-40 home runs. They have some stretches like this, too."
Dunn has been through plenty of peaks and valleys before, so he's not panicking. If anything, the fact this is nothing new gives him confidence this slump won't last forever.
"I know I'll come out of it," he said. "That's the only thing I know for sure. When I'm playing good, I'm never that good. And when I'm playing bad, I'm pretty bad. Hopefully tomorrow it'll all get back to where it needs to be."
3. STEPHEN STRASBURG
The outcome of these three games at Citizens Bank Park really were overshadowed by the sight of Strasburg wincing in pain after throwing his 56th pitch last night, followed by the rookie departing the field beside his pitching coach and trainer. That moment has far greater lasting importance to this franchise than two losses over a late-August weekend in Philadelphia.
The more-pressing issue now is what happens to Strasburg moving forward. He underwent his MRI today in Washington, the results of which could be known later tonight but more likely won't be revealed until tomorrow morning.
Mike Rizzo has insisted all along the club won't make any determination about Strasburg's pitching plan until the results of that MRI are known, but few around the Nationals believe the 22-year-old will make his next start Thursday against the Cardinals.
If the MRI shows anything to truly be concerned about, the Nats will shut Strasburg down. If it doesn't show anything serious, they'll proceed with caution. As was the case last month with his shoulder tightness, look for the club to bring him back step-by-step. He'll play catch. Then he'll long-toss. Then he'll throw off a bullpen mound. Then he'll face live hitters. If he passes each test, he'll be back pitching in a big-league game before long.
There's no right answer here. Few would criticize the Nats if they choose to shut Strasburg down for the season. Some would prefer they not baby him and let him pitch, provided there's no real danger of further damage.
At the end of an unsettling weekend in Philly, the Strasburg dilemma represents the biggest (but not only) question facing the Nationals.