Up-and-down outing for Strasburg vs. Reds

May 28th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- After Stephen Strasburg threw 5 1/3 shutout innings in his return from the injured list last Friday, he said, “I think it was a step in the right direction, but again, I think there’s still some work to be done.”

The right-hander continues to iron out wrinkles after missing a span of 31 games because of right shoulder inflammation. In his second start since being activated, Strasburg (1-2) took the loss in the Nationals’ 3-0 defeat to the Reds on Thursday night at Nationals Park. The game was scheduled for seven innings after the two teams made up Wednesday's suspended game during the afternoon.

“Pitch count got up there a little bit, which was good,” Strasburg said. “I felt like I had definitely more in the tank, just the ball didn’t bounce our way there.”

Strasburg tossed 87 pitches (49 strikes) over five innings. He struck out five, issued one walk -- his fewest of the season -- and allowed three runs on five hits. Strasburg leaned most heavily on his curveball (38 percent of his pitches) while also delivering his sinker (30%), four-seam fastball (26%) and changeup (6%).

“I thought he did well,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He threw strikes when he needed to. His fastball command was a tick off, but I thought he threw the ball OK.”

Though Strasburg had a stretch of retiring nine consecutive batters, his outing was bookended by scoring woes.

Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter, Eugenio Suárez, sent Strasburg’s fifth pitch of the game -- a 92.2 mph fastball -- out to center field, a Statcast-projected 398 feet. Strasburg then hit Jesse Winker with a curveball in the next at-bat, marking the first time he allowed a homer and a hit by pitch in the same inning since Sept. 18, 2018, against the Marlins in Miami.

“That was a beautiful swing by Suárez,” Winker said. “He hammered that ball. He really set the tone for us.”

In the fifth inning, Winker’s RBI single into center field evaded Trea Turner when it ricocheted off second base, and Tyler Naquin added an RBI double to left field. Washington had won five consecutive games against Cincinnati dating back to July 3, 2016, with Strasburg on the mound, and the Reds looked to maximize their scoring opportunities.

“Any time you can add on -- whether it’s one or two -- against a guy like Strasburg, it’s huge,” said Winker.

Strasburg will continue to work on his mechanics between starts, including maintaining his direction and staying behind the ball. Martinez noticed Strasburg is falling toward the first-base side more than he has in the past, something pitching coach Jim Hickey plans to address. Martinez also expects Strasburg’s pitch count to go down and innings to go up once he improves his fastball location.

“I know when I can sync up my body -- especially my lower half -- and be more efficient going down the mound, [my] arm feels good when I throw it,” Strasburg said. “A lot of it, I think, is just getting the reps in, getting out there in game situations, just trying to let your athletic brain take over.”

Though Strasburg kept this matchup within reach, the Nationals’ bats fell flat, producing only two hits. Strasburg has received four runs of support or fewer in each start this season.

“He’s a veteran guy that understands the game and understands that his job is to get outs and keep us in the game,” Martinez said. “And he did that tonight.”