The Washington Nationals hope that it is simply a case of spring training rust, but pitcher Stephen Strasburg is still having trouble pitching his way out jams. In his last two starts against the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, Strasburg has looked good for the most part, but had a couple of innings where he has struggled.
On Monday in Viera, FL, Strasburg was strong for five shutout innings against the Braves. Then in the fifth he gave up four earned runs and was removed. It was the third game in a row that Strasburg got himself into trouble and couldn’t get out. He had done the same against Philadelphia and the St. Louis Cardinals. If there is a time for Strasburg to struggle it is now while the games do not count, but when April rolls around he will be counted on to beat the Braves, Phillies and Cardinals.
There is no need for Strasburg or the Nationals to panic over his spring training performance. March is for getting into shape and working on weaknesses. Strasburg may not be showing his full arsenal to opponents. He is also pitching without his everyday defensive lineup on the field and may not be comfortable being backed by men who will not be on the team come opening day. Manager Davey Johnson does not seem worried about Strasburg and feels he will be ready by opening day.
Still, the one flaw in Strasburg’s game has been his tendency to give up the big inning. When he is on his game and keeping runners off base, Strasburg is almost impossible to beat. However, when opponents can string a few base runners together and get Strasburg out of the windup, he becomes less effective. Most pitchers lose something off of their pitches when they have to hold runners on base from the stretch. It seems at times that Strasburg loses his rhythm as well.
With some pitchers one can tell when they may be vulnerable to the big inning. When Edwin Jackson was with Washington you knew that he would struggle early. In Strasburg’s case, there is no telling when the big inning will come. Sometimes it is in the first. In other cases, like Monday, he will cruise for five innings then suddenly lose his rhythm. This is a manager’s nightmare in that he never knows what his pitcher will give him on any day.
To their credit, the Nationals have not shied away from pitching Strasburg against the teams that they will have to beat in the East. Washington knows that he will face Atlanta and Philadelphia quite a few times during the season and doesn’t seem worried that Strasburg has struggled against them this spring.
However, the problem is not Strasburg’s opponents. It is his tendency to suddenly lose his rhythm and give up the big inning at any time in a game without warning. If this continues, Strasburg and the Nationals may not enjoy the success many have predicted for them in 2013.