WASHINGTON – Stephen Strasburg was at his dominant best in the early going Saturday, retiring 13 of the first 14 Chicago Cubs he faced, seven by strikeout.
And then it all fell apart for the Washington Nationals’ right-hander after a teammate’s error. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009 and NL All-Star in 2012 wound up dropping his fifth consecutive decision of 2013, slumping his shoulders and bowing his head while laboring through a 42-pitch fifth inning during an 8-2 loss to the Cubs.
I tried to tell him You have to keep your head up, every time. You never can put your head down,’ Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos said. Because every time, when he puts the head down, he loses focus.
Strasburg (1-5) hasn’t won since opening day, April 1, against the Miami Marlins.
It’s hard to explain. He was throwing good, good stuff. Hitting his spots, manager Davey Johnson said. And then it seemed – where we needed him to pick us up, the air went out.
The first of Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s pair of errors came with two outs in the fifth of a scoreless game, an off-target throw (he made a fielding error in the seventh).
Strasburg followed with his first walk, to No. 8 hitter Darwin Barney, he of the .160 batting average. Then up came opposing pitcher Edwin Jackson, who delivered a full-count double to right center that made it 2-0. That accounted for Jackson’s first hit and RBI of the season; he’d been 0 for 10.
If Strasburg punches him out there, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, it’s a whole different ballgame.
Unraveling, Strasburg walked another batter and gave up Starlin Castro’s single, loading the bases. Anthony Rizzo grounded a single up the middle, the ball bounding into center to score two more runs. Instead of backing up home plate on the play, Strasburg ambled around on the infield grass and looked into the dugout.
All four runs were unearned, and Strasburg’s ERA actually dipped to 3.10.
I feel like I’m going out there and pitching well. Just not happening on the days I pitch right now, Strasburg said. It’s all going to change. It’s still early, and all I can do is just go out there and give everything I have every fifth day. Whatever happens, happens.
Jackson (1-5) retired 12 of Washington’s first 13 batters and allowed two runs and four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He earned his first victory under a $52 million, four-year contract he signed after leaving Washington as a free agent, and in doing so, ended the Nationals’ five-game winning streak.
It was definitely nice to get that monkey off my back. It felt about the same size as me, Jackson said.
When things are going bad, you can fold and collapse, he added, or you can continue to work hard and climb your way out of the hole.
Sounds like advice Strasburg might want to heed.