Saturday, June 30, 2012

"He was white as a sheet"

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg was pulled in the fourth inning with "heat-related issues."
ATLANTA -- The official temperature at Turner Field when Stephen Strasburg took the mound Saturday afternoon was 104 degrees. One hour earlier, as Strasburg was getting ready to warm up for his start against the Braves, that number actually sat at 106 degrees, officially the hottest reading ever recorded in the city's history. The Clean Air Campaign classified this as a "Code Purple" day, which means the air quality reached "very unhealthy" levels.

Strasburg thought he had prepared for this. He'd known since making his last start Monday in Colorado -- where the gametime temperature was a record 100 degrees -- what awaited him in Atlanta, and according to teammates had been taking precautions for several days in anticipation of this outing.

But as the Nationals right-hander very slowly walked off the field in the middle of the fourth inning, his shoulders slumped, his uniform sopping wet, it was obvious to Davey Johnson what needed to be done.

"When he came back in, he was white as a sheet," the manager said. "And I said: 'That's it.'"

Thus ended the shortest start of Strasburg's season in disturbing fashion. As the young ace retreated to the air-conditioned clubhouse to receive three rounds of IV fluids and other treatments to address what the Nationals called "heat-related issues," his teammates fought their way through another five innings of torturous baseball, ultimately taking a 7-5 loss to the Braves that didn't seem as serious by day's end than Strasburg's health.

"It's obviously a great decision by Davey," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "You preach to kids: 'Hey, if you're hot and you feel dizzy, come out of the game.' I knew a kid who died at a young age in Florida. He felt like he was hot, he kept on practicing. And the next thing you know, he was gone. I was relieved they made the right decision and got Stras out and he didn't give too much of a fight. It was a responsible decision."

Shortly after this 3-hour, 14-minute ballgame played before a crowd of 26,491 that tried to seek refuge by retreating to the few covered sections of the stadium, Strasburg stood in front of his locker, a bandage covering his inner left elbow at the site of the IV injection. He seemed dejected that he couldn't pitch deeper into the late afternoon.

"Obviously I want to go out there and compete, and I expected a lot more of myself," he said. "By no means was I going out there thinking I wasn't prepared for it. I did everything I could to be ready for it as far as hydrating and everything. I've just got to learn from it."

Strasburg warmed up in the bullpen wearing a navy blue pullover, perhaps not wanting to soak his red game jersey before he ever threw an official pitch. It didn't take long for that to happen, though; by the time he walked off the mound following a 24-pitch first inning, he already looked fatigued.

Strasburg did contribute to the Nationals' cause. He actually delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the second after the Braves intentionally walked catcher Jesus Flores to load the bases for the pitcher (who now boasts a .375 batting average and 1.090 OPS).

But he really struggled during the bottom of the third, issuing two walks and two doubles and needing extra time between pitches to catch his breath and wipe sweat off his brow.

"I tried to go up there a couple of times, just calm him down and tell him: ‘Hey, breathe. Take your time. Just trust yourself'" Flores said. "But I knew at the same time, the weather wasn't easy to handle it."

In between innings, Strasburg tried to cool off in the air-conditioned clubhouse. But he had no time for that after the third inning because he was due up third. He trudged to the plate, intending never to take the bat off his shoulder, yet still was forced to trot to first base after Atlanta lefty Mike Minor walked him.

By the time that inning ended and Strasburg slowly made his way to the dugout, Johnson realized he couldn't allow this to continue any longer.

"It was pretty scary, and he wasn't talking too good," said the manager, who also said the pitcher's blood pressure was "way up." "I found out later that he got a little dizzy while he was out on the mound. The problem was he was totally dehydrated."

Chien-Ming Wang had already been warming in the bullpen for an inning, just in case a change needed to be made. Because Strasburg (who wound up throwing 67 pitches) was being removed from the game due to a physical ailment, Johnson asked the umpiring crew to give Wang as much time as he needed to warm up.

Wang, a native of Taiwan who has become accustomed to pitching in excessive heat and humidity, wasn't so much fazed by the conditions as much as his continued inability to locate his bread-and-butter sinker. The veteran right-hander wound up getting tagged for four runs and five hits in two innings, turning what was a close game into a sizable deficit.

It was the latest in a string of poor outings by Wang, whose ERA now sits at 7.61 as he tries to right himself out of the bullpen.

"Coach gave me this opportunity," he said through interpreter John Hsu. "I just need to do my best and try to get myself back, just like before."

The Nationals' patience with Wang (who was re-signed for $4 million in November) appears to be running thin.

"He's just not right," Johnson said. "His release is not right, and I'm concerned about it. He's a veteran pitcher and it's not really spring training. We're in the heat of battle. So I don't know."

The date of Wang's next appearance remains to be seen. The date of Strasburg's next appearance tentatively remains Friday, against the Rockies in Washington. That's his final scheduled start before the All-Star Game, an exhibition he's likely to find out Sunday he'll participate in for the first time in his career.

"It's serious," Johnson said of the dehydration. "But it's not something he can't recover from."

A native of San Diego, where the temperature rarely exceeds 80 degrees, Strasburg knows he's going to have to deal with plenty more hot summer days on the East Coast.

He'll continue to prepare as well as he can, even though the precautions he took before Saturday's game still prevented him from overcoming the extreme elements.

"It just didn't seem to change the symptoms or anything," he said. "It's tough. I feel like I let the team down today. It's just something I've got to get over."


Steady Eddie said...

Even if you view this from an entirely calculating business perspective, it's nuts to risk the players as extremely valuable assets, not to mention potential liability risks from the weather. Not really much different than trying to play a foot ball game in a blizzard. Can't believe thee isn't some "health pf the players" clause in the TV contract that wouldn't let them delay tomorrow's game until 6 pm or so.

Doc said...

Given Stephen's elevated BP, it obviously (and his physicians would, I'm sure, already know), he may be mildly hypertensive which is exacerbated by heat.

Fortunately he has learned, what all ball players and their trainers know, to hydrate.

Rare condition for someone so young and in such great physical shape, but it can happen.

SonnyG10 said...

I had a heat stroke playing baseball in extreme heat when I was young. It was a long time after that before I could take the heat again. I hope Stephen didn't get to that point.

peric said...

Maybe it is propitious that Strasburg has the innings limit and imminent shutdown in a month or so. As for Wang, he is Davey's mistake plain and simple. He isn't ready to pitch in the major leagues ... and there's no telling if he ever will be.

Drew said...

Hope Strasburg's OK. Playing that game at 4 p.m. Is daft.

In other news, the shortstop shift in the Nats' minor league system is intriguing.

Two weeks ago the Nats released Chris McConnell, the Harrisburg shortstop, and promoted Zach Walters, who is raking at a .340 clip in his first 10 games.

Jason Martinson, who was promoted to Potomac -- which already had Rick Hague -- is splitting time at short and third.

Martinson is mashing. He has 11 RBIs in 10 games. His problem is defense. He already has four errors in those 10 contests.

D'Gourds said...

I wonder if Wang would agree to a stint in AAA. He seems to appreciate the loyalty the Nats have shown him and he could get more pt there. We could promote Lannan as our long reliever then who is pitching well now.

NatsLady said...

D'Gourds, he might. But would he pass through waivers--probably not. Some non-contending team would grab him and find a roster spot for him. As for Lannan, he would be in the bullpen if he'd agreed to it long ago. Maybe those months in Syracuse have changed his thinking.

natsfan1a said...

They did the right thing by taking him out.

baseballswami said...

Apparently they can't assign Wang to aaa contractually but he can agree to go. He should..

NatsLady said...

Wang threw some good pitches in the second inning of work, just not enough. Then got pulled for a pinch hitter. Clearly he needs to work 4-5 innings in a stint, and that's unlikely to happen out of the bullpen.

The one and only time I blacked out in my life was when the tennis instructor made us run a mile in the blazing heat then then play. I was twenty and in excellent shape. I dropped the class immediately and can't even remember how I met the PE requirement in college. You don't fool around with heat stroke.

JaneB said...

If they can postpone games because of cold or rain or snow, why not for heat?
I worry for all if them. Even the umps.

MicheleS said...

I am really glad that Davey pulled him. Just insane that they were playing in that heat. I hope the Players Association gets involved and sticks it to Fox on that 1 or 4 pm start in the dead of summer.

The good news for the next few saturdays we have the 7 pm games (except that 1 pm make up on 7/21). There are a few weekday games that are either at 12 or 1. Can't do much about Sunday day games.

NatsLady said...

Should start the game w/ a scrub pitcher and have a three-hour "heat-delay." Fox can't do anything about that.

MicheleS said...

NatsLady..Like where you are going with that!!!

164abb6e-9075-11e1-aba1-000bcdcb471e said...

JaneB: You said "even the umps."

I would say "especially" the umps who, unlike the players, don't get to sit down every half inning. I've umpired a lot of baseball, and I can tell you it can be brutal, especially if you are behind the plate. There is no letup, no shade, no opportunity to rest. And these guys are older than the players and, one senses, not always in the greatest shape. It is remarkable that there aren't more problems.

Gonat said...

You know in Dibble's warped mind he is smiling right now.

Gonat said...

baseballswami said...
Apparently they can't assign Wang to aaa contractually but he can agree to go. He should..

July 01, 2012 7:14 AM

I don't think it works that way. I believe he would have to pass through waivers before they assign him and he would have to agree to it.

Neither of those are likely.

Once Wang went on rehab he had 30 days to be brought up. He was brought up much quicker than that. Whatever Wang needs isn't going to help this team.

4 runs over 2 innings yesterday was the reason the Nats lost not the 3 runs by Strasburg leaving in a 3-2 deficit.

JayB said...

Wang is a huge mistake...DFA him....nobody is going to pick him up.....and if big lose other than to Rizzo Ego and as we all know that is a BIG PROBLEM for this team

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

JayB, yes, it was a very costly 3 year gamble that will not end well. Like I said, you need 7 relievers that are better than any replacement player.

Is there anyone in AAA better right now on the 40 man? If not, Wang stays until Storen is ready.

Gonat said...

NatsLady said...
Wang threw some good pitches in the second inning of work, just not enough. Then got pulled for a pinch hitter. Clearly he needs to work 4-5 innings in a stint, and that's unlikely to happen out of the bullpen.

Clearly if he works 4-5 innings his record still doesn't look great. His problem is that 1st inning and his last inning of work. The in-between has been fine and unfortunately all innings count. There are a lot of out of work pitchers with that same problem.

Here is Wang's last 30 days w/ ERA, IP, ERs

05/30/2012 @MIA 6.43 4.0 4
06/07/2012 NYM 5.11 5.1 2
06/12/2012 @TOR 4.67 5.0 2
06/19/2012 TB 6.10 3.1 5
06/27/2012 @COL 6.65 1.0 2
06/30/2012 @ATL 7.61 2.0 4

alexva said...

the only damage in the Wang experiment has been to the Lerner bank account, up to now that is.

as the dog days near it will be important that all players on the roster have something to contribute. if he's released right after the break, no harm no foul.

JamesFan said...

In this kind of heat, you have to slow the game way down. Stras, who probably never saw this kind of heat anywhere near San Diego, couldn't adjust. Great decision to take him out.

MicheleS said...

Alexva.. well said. It was the lerner money (which we all spend freely here) that was lost, nothing else!

fast eddie said...

Everything being written here assumes Wang is gone already. Did I miss an announcement?
Davey can be stubborn re: "his guys" (i.e., Espinosa). I wouldn't be surprised to see Wang get another chance or two.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Alexva/MicheleS, sure, money lost, egos bruized, but when losses are accumulated based on retaining a mistake, that's where it goes from a financial mistake to a larger issue.

The goal is to not perpetuate mistakes. Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Knoxville Nat said...

Peric lays the responsibility for Wang's problems at the feet of Davey Johnson saying "...he is Davey's mistake plain and simple..."

On the other hand our old friend JayB surfaces to say that "...Wang is a huge big lose (sic) other than to Rizzo Ego..."

I think this is a situation that calls for shared responsibility and accountability. Both Rizzo and Johnson chose to keep Wang over Lannan, a questionable choice in my opinion but worse, the way they handled his assignment to Syracuse ("John's my guy"),telling him in the dugout and in the middle of a game was both disrespectful and unprofessional.

I agree that the Wang experiment has to end and the sooner the better, probably over the all star break. But lets remember that both Rizzo and Johnson should be held accountable for this mistake.

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