WASHINGTON – Stephen Strasburg took the mound in his home stadium for the final time in 2012, greeted by a standing ovation from a Nationals Park crowd that would swell to 28,533, many no doubt anticipating something special from their All-Star right-hander.
Instead, Strasburg delivered one of his worst starts of the season, prompting manager Davey Johnson to question his ace’s focus as the club’s Wednesday deadline to end his season looms.
The Nationals would lose this game in 10 innings, a wild 9-7 setback to the Miami Marlins that in many ways spoke volumes about Strasburg, his manager and teammates and the club’s hotly debated plan to delete their All-Star right-hander from their postseason roster.
Strasburg? He equaled his shortest outing of the year in pitching three erratic innings – a performance Johnson said was due in part to Strasburg’s preoccupation on his season ending.
Johnson, in keeping with a season-long pattern of stirring up intrigue around his most prominent players, intimated that the club “might” reconsider its Wednesday shutdown deadline, given Strasburg’s brief outing Friday – which is probably news to general manager Mike Rizzo.
“To be honest,” Johnson said of Strasburg, “I think he was thinking too much about the decision to shut him down.”
Johnson said conversations with Strasburg indicated he was losing sleep at the notion of letting his teammates down. Strasburg bristled at the notion that his focus waned Friday, saying he struggled because his fastball command was off.
And Strasburg’s lackluster outing served to reinforce two crucial points the Nationals have maintained as Rizzo’s plan to shut him down became a national point of debate:
•That capping Strasburg’s season at about 170 innings is consistent with the best practices for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery.
•And that the Nationals figure to flourish without him.
Point No. 1 was driven home by Strasburg’s three-inning, six-hit, five-run performance that stuck his team in an early three-run hole. It continued a second-half pattern of inconsistency in which Strasburg’s fastball command deserts him.
Certainly, there’s no guarantee Strasburg wouldn’t be facing similar hurdles had he not undergone Tommy John surgery, but such inconsistency is very typical for a pitcher in his first full season after elbow reconstruction.
And Point No. 2 was driven home yet again as the game went on and Strasburg’s teammates methodically clawed back against the Marlins, until Strasburg was…