Friday, July 1, 2022

Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg allows seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in return to mound

For the first time in more than a year, Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg took the mound in big-league action. The result was an ugly line with some positives mixed in. 

Through four innings against the Marlins, the story looked something like “Strasburg is back, only a tough-luck first muddies up the stat line.” Things unraveled in the fifth, though. A quick breakdown: 

  • In the first inning, Jazz Chisholm led off with a bunt single. It was perfectly placed. It’s a credit to Chisholm, but also not really a negative for Strasburg. After two groundouts, Strasburg was a very close call on a 3-2 count away from getting out of the inning. The call didn’t go his way and then two well-placed hits that weren’t struck all that well meant it was a 3-0 Marlins lead. Strasburg was so close away from a zero on the scoreboard. 
  • In the second inning, Strasburg started to mix in his changeup and things immediately clicked. He struck out all three hitters he faced. We all missed seeing him make hitters look this badly, didn’t we? 
  • In the third and fourth innings, he worked around a hit-by-pitch and walk to get six outs in seven hitters. It was strikeouts and weak contact (the hardest-hit ball was an 88.4 miles-per-hour flyout). 
  • In the fifth inning, he would only get two outs — a hard lineout and an outfield assist. He would cough up two singles (one was another Chisholm bunt, just to be clear), two doubles and a booming home run. The Jesús Sánchez two-run shot chased Strasburg from the game. 

The final line: 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

There were definitely positives. The changeup looked great, especially in the second inning. The curve looked sharp for the most part. Through four innings, it was a damn fine outing. Just to see him back on the mound after such a major surgery was a plus on its own. 

There were concerns as well. Strasburg’s fastball was hit hard on occasion and only drew one swing-and-miss out of 23 pitches. He was only sitting 90 with it, topping out at 91.7. His sinker was also pounded a few times and didn’t get a single swing-and-miss out of 19 pitches. 

It was a mixed bag, we’ll say, though it honestly leaned more toward bad than good. 

Strasburg only made two starts in 2020 due to nerve issues and then was shut down after five starts last season before needing to have surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. It is an injury — and ensuing surgery — that has effectively ended or dramatically altered a good number of pitching careers, so it’s always been a worrisome situation surrounding Strasburg. 

Heading into 2022, the 13th season of Strasburg’s MLB career, he’s 113-61 with a 3.21 ERA (128 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP and 1,718 strikeouts in 1,465 1/3 regular-season innings. In nine playoff appearances, he is 6-2 with a 1.46 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 71 strikeouts against just eight walks in 55 1/3 innings. Given that the Nationals won the 2019 World Series and he was MVP, the Nats have more than gotten their return on investment in the 2009 number one overall draft pick. 

Moving forward, though, Strasburg is in the third year of a seven-year, $245 million deal. He’s 33 years old. They are a non-contending ballclub right now, but the hope moving forward would be that Strasburg and Juan Soto are the backbones of their next playoff-caliber team. 

Getting Strasburg back on the mound was a positive step in that direction. He’ll look to get the other stuff sorted out in the coming weeks. 

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