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Strasburg’s Struggles

Strasburg’s Struggles

An observant baseball fan recently told me: “The Nationals live and die with Strasburg, and right now they’re dying.” With the Nationals barely trailing the Braves in the division, they’re not entirely dying. However, Stephen Strasburg’s struggles this season thus far have definitely weakened the team and taken a toll on their standings.



First innings have proven to be Strasburg’s biggest weakness so far this season. On his April 24th start he gave up three runs in just the first inning. In his first six starts he allowed seven earned runs in first innings, more than he had in the other 31 innings he’s been on the mound combined, leading him to hold a first inning 10.80 ERA, and a 1.85 ERA in the rest of the innings of his first six starts.


Some are theorizing that his first inning struggles could be attributed to not getting ahead on the count. In the first inning of the April 24th game he only got first-pitch strikes on 5 of 7 faced batters; however, of the remaining 19 batters he faced, he threw first-pitch strikes on 13.

(In all honesty, when the Mets score, it should count double against your ERA)


Following Strasburg’s disappointing performance on April 29th, the Nationals didn’t say much more than he was suffering from forearm tightness. Strasburg was noticeably bothered by his forearm; he often rubbed or shook it after a badly controlled pitch, and, considering he’s recently returned from Tommy John surgery in the off season, it’s certainly possible, but I have my doubts when watching him hurl 97 mph fastballs.


The problem with Strasburg’s 97 mph fastball is that, when he can’t seem to find home plate, it makes for a very nervous experience for the batter, catcher, and umpire in the line of fire. The silver lining to his first inning performance was that it made for a great distraction to batters more focused on not being beamed than making a solid swing.


After allowing 10 base runners in the five innings, Strasburg appeared to be gaining control in his last inning. His unpredictability seems to have everyone unsure if he’s improving or deteriorating at this early point in the season.


At the end of last Saturday’s game facing the Cubs there were signs Strasburg was not happy with his own performance. During two RBI’s he seemed to barely make his way to backup the plate, looking all but defeated. He’s known to be a perfectionist and very critical of himself, which leads one to believe his struggles may be originating more from a mental block than “forearm tightness”.



Giving up only one hit and allowing only one baserunner in the first four innings of Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the Cubs, Strasburg was a near reflection of his previous season’s glory. Until the fifth inning when Ryan Zimmerman committed his sixth error this season, causing the third out to not be made. Even with two outs, Strasburg couldn’t seem to get his mind back in the game.


The remainder of the fifth inning saw Strasburg walk two batters, and allow two singles, a double, and four runs. His inability to recover when his team is struggling exposed a serious weakness for the previously untouchable pitcher.


He did not struggle through the first inning, as he obviously has been this season (remember that 10.80 first inning ERA?), but I wouldn’t count on that being the end of his first inning struggles. Before facing the Cubs in Saturday’s start, he had given up 17 earned runs, 7 of which were in the first inning.


Though Strasburg may have been able to stay in for seven innings pre-Tommy Johns, five seems to be his limit post-Tommy Johns. Saturday he finished his outing at 95 pitches, with 53 pitches (and 7 strikeouts) in the first four innings, and 42 pitches in the fifth alone. With almost half of his pitches being in the fifth, Strasburg failed to get back on track and was relieved. Post Zimmerman’s disappointing error and Strasburg’s downward spiral, the Nats did manage to score in the firth and six innings but their fate was already sealed.



Though the Cubs are not in the Nationals division, they are last place in theirs, trailing 8.5 games behind the Cardinals. With another loss on Sunday to a team that should have been like batting practice for the Nationals, one wonders if possibly Strasburg’s effectiveness also lives and dies with the Nationals, in which case, if he can’t get himself on track, it looks like he might need steadier backing to rely on.



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Hayley Marche is an Atlanta Braves fanatic who is currently based out of Tallahassee.  Under no circumstances should you say she’s based in Orlando!!