Sunday, May 20, 2012

Once again, Strasburg all business

Associated Press photo
A crowd of 41,918 got Stephen Strasburg to take a curtain call after homering.
Perhaps one of these days -- when he throws a no-hitter or throws the final pitch of a pennant-clinching victory for the Nationals -- Stephen Strasburg will offer up the kind of display of emotion few have ever seen from him.

For now, there's very little that can happen on the field to break through the stone-faced visage of a 23-year-old right-hander who expects the very best from himself and isn't about to publicly celebrate his accomplishments.

Strike out seven of 10 batters over a four-inning stretch? Nothing. Club the first home run of your career and be summoned by an overflow crowd of 41,918 for a curtain call? Just give a quick tip of the cap. Find out your manager revealed you were were dealing with some kind of arm trouble? The exterior expression still doesn't change.

"I just think that's his thing," teammate Danny Espinosa said. "He doesn't show emotion, and that's good. If things are going good or bad, there's no emotion shown, which to me is an even-keeled guy."

There were other important developments during the Nats' 9-3 victory over the Orioles Sunday afternoon in the finale of this series. Bryce Harper overcame an early error to deliver the two-run triple that ignited a sleeping lineup. Jesus Flores mashed only his second big-league homer in three years. Espinosa produced two of his biggest hits in weeks.

At the end of the day, though, the spotlight once again shined brightest on the pitcher who has been under the brightest spotlight since the day the Nationals drafted him three summers ago. For plenty of reasons, some positive, some potentially negative.

Through it all, Strasburg stayed calm and determined. He wasn't fazed by a shaky couple of innings to begin his afternoon, when the Orioles scored three runs (two unearned) and jumped out to an early lead that left many wondering whether Strasburg was about to endure through another outing too similar to his previous laborious appearance five days earlier against the Padres.

He simply retired 10 straight batters, striking out seven to silence the Orioles' potent lineup.

"It was almost like deja vu, especially after what happened the previous game," he said. "I wanted to go out there and do a better job of not letting that affect how I attack hitters. It was nice to be able to go out there and adjust from it and keep the team in the ballgame long enough for us to put some runs on the board."

Unlike that game against San Diego, the Nationals stormed back and got Strasburg off the hook. Though he was just as influential in making that happen as anyone in the lineup.

It was Strasburg's leadoff single in the third that set in motion a three-run rally. And then one inning later, he pulled off his most extraordinary feat yet.

Behind in the count 0-2 to Baltimore left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, Strasburg decided to sit on a curveball. He got one, and the force of his swing sent shockwaves throughout the park.

The ball sailed toward left field, sending Xavier Avery back to the fence. Eventually, the Orioles outfielder ran out of real estate and could only watch as the ball landed in the visitors bullpen, then as Strasburg strolled around the bases on a 26-second victory lap following the first home run of his career.

"Shocking," Strasburg admitted. "That's for sure."

He, of course, was being modest. Those who watch Strasburg hit on a regular basis knew this might happen some day.

"Oh, we watch him all the time; it's a display," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think [Ryan Zimmerman] was joking: He needs to start in the All-Star Game and hit in the Home Run Derby. It's pretty impressive."

Throughout his stroll around the bases, Strasburg never showed any out-of-the-ordinary emotion. He didn't pump his fist. He didn't even appear to smile until he finally returned to the dugout and a few teammates began to rib him.

"I think Strasburg just expects to hit," Espinosa said. "He's a good hitter. He's a good athlete. I don't know, I don't think too much really affects him."

Perhaps not even some arm soreness that may or may not have been significant. Manager Davey Johnson surprisingly volunteered that Strasburg told him following the fifth inning that his right biceps muscle was tight. His pitch count already at 90, Johnson just decided to shut him down for the day.

"His tightness was in his bicep, and he said it was bothering him," the manager said. "Early on, he thought he could get it loose and keep going, but it seemed to get tighter on him. And as soon as I heard that, I said that was it."

Strasburg insisted he had no such issue in his biceps, only the typical kind of fatigue he feels after pitching.

"I wouldn't say it was just my arm," he said. "I think it was just my body."

Strasburg attributed the issue to his having overworked himself in the days since his last start. Perhaps wanting too much to bounce back from a four-inning loss, he did more extensive weight-lifting and throwing in the days since and paid the price for it Sunday when he took the mound.

"Nothing different than any other outing," he reiterated. "It's something that it's going to be like this for probably the rest of the year. It's just part of coming back from Tommy John [surgery], building up the innings, getting the stamina and everything. It's something I've just got to be smart about."

Red flags might be waving across town now, but both Johnson and Strasburg insisted he'll make his next start -- currently scheduled for Saturday in Atlanta -- and that there is nothing to be concerned about moving forward. Given Strasburg's history and the manner in which the Nationals have taken extreme precautions with their former No. 1 pick, few would be surprised if the plan changes.

If this is actually something serious, Strasburg certainly wasn't letting on Sunday. He remained his usual self in the postgame clubhouse, chatting with teammates, watching highlights of his performance on MLB Network and eventually showering and dressing for the team's short bus ride to Philadelphia.

For now, he was concerned only with the job he did to help his team snap a three-game losing streak and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Orioles.

That's Strasburg's job, and he's very serious about it.

"To be completely honest, I'm the type of person I want to take ownership," he said. "I want to take charge. I want to be that guy they can rely on to get the job done. At times, I feel like I have to do more to go out there and get the team back on track. And a lot of it's out of my control. I have to go out there and try to do my job. And if everybody does their job, we're going to be OK."


Manassas Nats' Fan said...

Stras is going to be a cornerstone of the franchise for a while (we have rooms for lots of cornerstones).

JamesFan said...

Love this tough, no nonsense, get it done attitude.

baseballswami said...

JamesFan - don't you mean Natitude? He has it in spades. I heard somewhere that he is a good golfer and that swing looked a little like a golf swing. Sounds like a lot of players golf - any correlation with the swings? It's just interesting.

Doc said...

Let the history of BB players and golf show, baseballswami, that pitchers make the better golfers. Notable exceptions are Mike Schmidt, who seems to have as much skill in golf as he did between the white lines.

Why pitchers??

My own pet theory is that they are more unilateral dominant(demonstrating straight preference with, eyes, hands and feet) on one side of the body.

If this theory is correct then right-handed pitchers 'should' make better golfers than lefties. Lefties tend to be more mixed dominant--hence the possible reason for them to traditionally take longer to develop as pitchers.

Hitters tend to be mixed dominant, which allows them to track moving balls better, but seems to lessen their skill with hitting a golf ball.

baseballswami said...

Well, Doc - that was quite a comprehensive answer. After some of the posts I have read today that were, shall we say, a little aggressive? - this was a breath of fresh air. Made sense too! SS strikes me as the type of guy who has to beat everyone no matter what the game is.

peric said...

I think Davey Johnson ( he who enjoyed crushing Earl Weaver in golf) might take exception to your theory Doc.

MicheleS said...

What a nice win! I wonder if Stras gave Harper a little bit of grief about that outfield error. I am sure that the other guys did.

peric said...

Hopefully, the 2, 3, 4, 5 of Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, and Morse will wake up and find they are good and go on a hot streak together. Looks like Desi is destined for #6 or #7 depending on who hits better, he or Espinosa.

T'would be nice if Espinosa learned what Corey Brown seems to have learned: this year in AAA: how to walk a lot, strike out a lot less, and still hit homers and extra base hits that drive in runs.

peric said...

What a nice win! I wonder if Stras gave Harper a little bit of grief about that outfield error. I am sure that the other guys did.

A lot of that is likely Harper's belief that Tyler Moore couldn't handle it. Bryce needs to learn he can't be everywhere on the field I guess. And Morse needs to get back so that they can send Tyler Moore back to Syracuse to get full-time play in both the outfield and first base.

whatsanattau said...

I am such an over the top fan of Michael Morse, that I can hardly contain myself until he gets back. I hope he sticks with Take on Me for the walk up music for nostalgia, but whatever, I just want to see him go into Beast Mode.

And on a completely separate note, Strasburg may be the best hitting pitcher on the team, but Wang can run the bases better than SS and GG.

Section 222 said...

Not to reignite an old dispute, but if NatsFanJim is still reading, the infamous Morse doubleswitched after hitting two home runs games was on July 23, 2010. The Nats lost 7-5 to the Brewers after being up 5-1 after 4 innings following the second of Morse's two home runs. Riggleman doubleswitched Morse out in the 6th for Willie Harris. I remember screaming at the TV when it happened.

A DC Wonk said...

(Sec222 -- nice find! I was looking in 2011 and couldn't find it!)

peric wrote, regarding Harper's error:

A lot of that is likely Harper's belief that Tyler Moore couldn't handle it.

Nahh, I don't think that was it. I think he thought it was right in the gap, and a combination of the wind and that it was slicing away from him, caused it to keep drifting over further than he anticipated. Since Bryce had already called for it, it would have been awkward/difficult to then say, "no, you have it." (since, generally speaking, once the CF calls for it, the LF/RF is supposed to step away).

A DC Wonk said...

RZ back?

He's still not totally on track -- but:

Since he came back from the DL (May 8-May 20) he's batting .294/.390/.392

Why is Davey playing Espi so much?

In Espi's last 12 games: .279/.326/.565

whatsanattau said...

Espinosa is a talented guy with a lot of potential but strikes out 33% of the time. It's too many unproductive outs. Maybe Davey can get him going, but As a left handed batter he is still struggling too much.

OTOH, Citizens Bank Park could be the remedy he has been looking for ...

whatsanattau said...

Kendrick, Haladay, Hamels...

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Thanks to Doc and his Theory of Unilateral Dominant. I had actually thought that was the reason we were in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I can now see I was wrong.

Next time I'm sitting next to some greasy Philthy fan, I'm going to run this Theory of Unilateral Dominant by him to get his feedback too.

Won the last five times at CBP. Let's make it six straight, Mr. Gio.

NatsLady said...

Mr. Detwiler, pay close attention.

"It was almost like deja vu, especially after what happened the previous game," [Srasburg] said. "I wanted to go out there and do a better job of not letting that affect how I attack hitters. It was nice to be able to go out there and adjust from it and keep the team in the ballgame long enough for us to put some runs on the board."

MicheleS said...

Section 222.... thank you for the research! I have a feeling that discussion will probably resurface when we play the O's again.

natsfan1a said...
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natsfan1a said...
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natsfan1a said...

In reading through the game thread after the fact, the "debate" struck me as trollesque. The commenter would say things like "I just want to watch the game," only to bring up the former skipper again later. Add in the name calling, and you just might have someone looking to yank a few chains. Just my opinion. I fed in managerial stats Saturday afternoon, but I'm done with that now.

Joe Seamhead said...

I started to jump into the fray yesterday and decided that it wasn't worth my energy. I really try not to continue trashing our former manager. The one thing that I will say on the subject is that I get the impression that virtuallly every ballplayer in our locker room would take a bullet for our current manager. Let's just say that wasn't always the case.
I find the decision to move Espinosa to leadoff to be rather curious, but it worked okay for one game, after sitting him for one. Like I've said before, Danny needs to sit for a bit, but he will be a very positve offensive force before all is said and done this season.He's already a positive force with the glove, of course.
Also, more then a couple have said that the Nats aren't quite ready to be serious playoff contenders until next year. I am not ready to concede any such thing yet. If we can get through June, and stay close, we have a great chance of playing a 90+ win season. Much will ride on Morse and Storen's return,and also who gets called up. Additionally, Harper's progress is important. He has a lot to learn about playing the OF, but he has all of the tools to be great. Add Jayson Werth's return in August, along with a call up of Corey Brown, and we will have a logjam in the OF. The future is looking bright, very bright indeed.

NatsLady said...

"Trollesque" -- I like it! For me, it was "scrollesque," plus another scroll-by handle for my collection.

A DC Wonk said...

>I find the decision to move Espinosa to leadoff to be rather curious

Indeed. I read somewhere that it was just to give him more at bats as he works out of his slump.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

My two cents on the Espi thing: it was a chance to get him in the game against a soft-tossing, mid-level (at best) lefty. Right-handed, Espi has been just bad, not the atrocious batter he is left-handed. Grandpa Davey's goal at the outset was for Lombo to get 300 at-bats. I think that's still the case. Espi would be arguably worth continued play because of his stellar defense (not that Lombo is bad). But I think they prefer to spot Espi against lefties as he is less embarrassing at the plate right-handed.

NatsLady said...

Wonk, read the same about Desi, so maybe that's a clue to Davey's thinking on slumps.

natsfan1a said...
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natsfan1a said...

On another note, perhaps somebody who comments over on WaPo (which I no longer do because of their interface), might wish to point out on the Bog that SS was announced over the PA system as the player of the game, and that he seemed to have handily won that vote. When I was submitting my ballpark text vote, he was at 85 percent on the scoreboard. (I've never submitted a player of the game vote via a number posted on the televised broadcast - do they even do that on Nats MASN broadcasts?)
May 21, 2012 9:12 AM

A DC Wonk said...

I get a chuckle out of the slash line for this Nat:


I'm sure most of you can probably figure out who it is. For the few who can't . . . enjoy the puzzle. ;-)

hiramhover said...

Sunshine - agreed.

Also, it's worth remembering that altho Lombo is a switch hitter, he's weaker from the right side than the left. A few years ago, while he was still in the minors, baseballprospectus suggested he was a "SHINO"--switch hitter in name only. That's too harsh--his splits improved substantially last year at Harrisburg and Syracuse, and he got a hit off a leftie yesterday.

But in limited chances so far in the major's, Lombo's splits are:

as LH vs RH: .326/.389/.384
as RH vs LH: .118/.167/.176

So it probably seemed like as good as any to get Espi some ABs.

A DC Wonk said...

Another great stat of the day:

Number of games that the Nats have scored 0 or 1 run: 6

Number of games that the Yankees have scored 0 or 1 run: 9

(and the Yanks get the benefit of playing with an extra hitter -- the dastardly DH)

just sayin'

Gonat said...

Did it really work with Espi? Struck out on 3 pitches to leadoff the game. 2nd at-bat after following Stephen Strasburg who got a hit, Espi makes contact and finds open area down the line after he failed to get the bunt down. Espi was in a 1-2 count when he grounded down the line on a 72mph curveball.

Just because it worked in the end, it was another case that Espi was supposed to bunt and couldn't get the bunt down. The end result was better but I'm not going to agree that 39 starts that Espi has had to work out his problems plus all the Spring Training games has been fair to the team or his teammates or the fanbase or to Steve Lombardozzi.

I was one of those who laughed when people were penciling in during ST Espi at SS and Lombo at 2nd. I guess they were 1/2 right.

Danny has now had 7 productive games out of the 40 he has appeared in.

I'm not a big WAR fan but many of you are. His BBRef WAR is a negative at -0.6 and -0.2 on FanGraphs.

If you use Philly rookie Freddy Galvis as the median, he's at 0.7. My guess is that Espi vs. Lombo has cost the Nats 2 wins this year.

NatsLady said...

I get a chuckle out of the slash line for this Nat: .375/.412/.750

Time for Rizzo to consider putting this Nat into the outfield so his bat can be there every day? Oh, I guess not, because of this stat

Opponents are hitting .214/.274/.292 off him.

A DC Wonk said...

Well, done, NatsLady!

(I found that stat on a site _you_ recommended a few weeks back, and which I try to look at briefly every morning ;-)

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

Since moving the 2B to lead off the team is averaging 7 runs a game. I know a small sample size, but a good start.

When Morse comes back

Lombo/Espi (vs righties/lefties)

Ankiel can me on in after Morse bats in 8th inning as a defense replacement if we are winning.

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