What I liked / Didn’t like from the Nats’ three game stand at the Great American Ball Park.
Game 1: 5-2 loss on Friday night (May 29)
Game 2: 8-5 loss on Saturday (May 30)
Game 3: 8-2 loss on Sunday afternoon (May 31)
What I liked:
1. Tanner Roark’s start in Game 3 – Roark allowed two runs in six innings, giving up solo homers to Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips but otherwise doing just fine in start no. 2 on the season. Roark also earned locker-room points for hitting Joey Votto with a pitch in the bottom of the first, retaliating for Bryce Harper getting hit by a pitch in Game 1 and Gio Gonzalez actually getting hit by pitches in consecutive innings in Game 2. All three hit-by-pitches on the Nats did appear unintentional (Harper’s is debatable, and he did miss Game 2 due to a sore back).
2. Michael Taylor – Taylor had two walks in Game 1, a three-run homer in Game 2 and a two-run single and a walk in Game 3.
What I didn’t like:
1. Sudden end to the surge – The Nats got swept off having won nine consecutive series.
2. The bullpen – Nats relievers combined to allow 14 runs in 11 2/3 innings, giving up 19 hits and six walks.
Casey Janssen gave up four runs on four hits and a walk in the eighth inning of Game 2.
Aaron Barrett and Matt Grace combined to allow six runs and record just one out in the seventh inning of Game 3.
3. Stephen Strasburg’s latest early-exit outing and now stint on the 15-day disabled list – Strasburg lasted for just one official inning, five batters and 16 pitches in Game 1, giving up a solo homer to Votto in the bottom of the first and then getting pulled after appearing in obvious discomfort (falling off the mound more than normal, moving his neck and shoulders after pitches) while walking Brayan Pena to lead off the bottom of the second. Matt Williams after the game labeled the problem as tightness in the left trapezius muscle and-or neck, and the Nats on Saturday placed Strasburg on the 15-day D.L. with neck tightness.
The numbers for Strasburg over 10 starts this season: 6.55 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 8.93 K/9, 2.78 BB/9. All would be career worsts should he end the year with them.
My personal breakdown of why Strasburg is struggling: 45 percent mental, 30 percent physical health, 25 percent bad luck (yes, I needed a calculator to do that).
His physical health obviously is an issue at this point. Whether it’s the neck or the left trap or his back (remember, he lasted just three innings in a 2-1 loss to Miami on May 5 due to discomfort underneath his right shoulder blade), his body isn’t right.
But Strasburg really seems to be lacking in confidence and grit these days. People that know the Nats will tell you it’s not necessarily that he’s soft; it’s that he’s an over-thinker and gets inside his own head. Go back to the 14-6 loss at Arizona on May 12. Strasburg allowed eight runs (seven earned) in 3 1/3 innings, committing an error during the Diamondbacks’ five-run fourth. What happened two batters after Strasburg committed that error? He gave up a three-run homer to Mark Trumbo in what seemed yet another instance of Strasburg imploding after a defensive mistake (in this case, his own).
There are reasons for optimism. First, is his track record; he was a very good (though not great) pitcher over the previous three seasons. Also, as I’ve pointed out, there is an element of bad luck in play: Strasburg’s .389 BABIP also would be a career worst and is well above the accepted industry norm of .300. And his velocity is where it was last season, so it’s not like Strasburg has lost his heat.
But the mind and the body are not right. And until they improve, the struggles will continue.
4. Gio’s start in Game 2 – Gio allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings on seven hits and two walks, needing 99 pitches to get through the 5 1/3 innings. What’s worth noting is that Gio got hit by pitches in the fifth and sixth innings. The second hit-by-pitch was on his left elbow, and while no injury was cited, Gio didn’t seem to be the same after that second hit-by-pitch, giving up two runs on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the sixth and then getting pulled.
5. Yunel Escobar’s ejection in Game 2 – Escobar had two singles in Game 1, a double and a single in Game 2 and a walk in Game 3, so he deserves credit for continuing to be productive. And that’s exactly why him getting tossed in the top of the seventh of Game 2 for arguing balls and strikes can’t happen. The Nats were without Harper and remained without Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth; Escobar’s bat was needed.
6. Werth now expected to be out until August – We learned on May 28 that a CT scan had revealed two small fractures in Werth’s left wrist and that he likely would not be back until August. X-rays and an MRI exam initially had revealed no fractures or tendon damage. Werth’s left wrist now has been broken three times: 2005 with the Dodgers and 2012 and 2015 with the Nats.
Think about Werth’s 2015 for a moment: jail time for reckless driving, arthroscopic surgery on his right AC joint that ultimately costs him the first week of the regular season, offensive and defensive struggles and now out until August with a broken left wrist.
7. Votto’s three-pitch walk in Game 3 – Votto, an on-base machine, took a ball to reach a 3-2 count in the bottom of the seventh but was awarded a walk. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, this stemmed from an extra ball being added to the stadium scoreboard.