Stephen Strasburg wants to be treated like one of the guys: with no limits on his pitching.
The 23-year-old phenom got his wish Wednesday.
The Washington Nationals let their young ace go past 100 pitches for the first time in the major leagues and he worked his way out of a two-on, one out jam in the sixth inning of a one-run ballgame Wednesday.
“I was going to hold him to 100 pitches but I didn’t know who to go to to get out of the jam,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said after a 4-0 victory over the New York Mets. “I probably would’ve had to strangle him to get the ball to get him out of the game.”
Strasburg threw 108 pitches in outlasting Johan Santana for six innings in a marquee matchup of aces on the mend, and the Nationals’ bullpen made the lead stand up on the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ first game.
Meeting in a blustery, chilly matinee, Strasburg (1-0) and Santana got off to an erratic start but settled into a duel between pitchers coming back from major arm operations.
Strasburg allowed two hits and struck out nine in helping the Nationals take the final two games of the three-game series against their division rival with stellar pitching – Ross Detwiler shut down the Mets on Tuesday night.
Strasburg threw 99 pitches in his eighth big league start in July 2010, when his callup to the big leagues captivated baseball, but he had elbow ligament-replacement surgery two months later and missed almost all of 2011. He is being kept on an innings limit of about 160 this season.
“By no means in the back of my head was I thinking, `How many pitches was I at?’” he said. I wanted to go out there and keep the team in the ballgame as long as I could.”
Santana (0-1) allowed five hits in five-plus innings but his wild pitch gave Washington a 1-0 lead in the second inning of a game that lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes. New York had only three hits and Mets pitchers combined to walk 10 and hit one batter.
New York’s bullpen gave up two bases-loaded walks and an RBI grounder to Chad Tracy in the eighth. By that time, much of the announced crowd of 34,614 had left.
The 33-year-old Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, was making just his second start in 19 months after left shoulder surgery. His operation was about two weeks after Strasburg’s in September 2010.
Santana’s fastball was clocked at about the same speed (a high of 90 mph, reached once) as the 23-year-old phenom’s changeup (89 mph). Strasburg’s fastball peaked at 98 mph.
Strasburg gave up a single to his first batter, Ruben Tejada, and walked Daniel Murphy in a frustrating 26-pitch first inning. After starting the second with a walk, he found better command of his curveball and went on a run of retiring 10 in a row until hitting Ronny Cedeno with a pitch with one out in the fifth.
“I was really concerned early because he was pitching backward. He was using a lot of changeups, back-to-back changeups, curveballs, even cutting his fastball,” Johnson said. “He got straightened out in the third inning and started pitching like he can.”
Said Strasburg: “I have four out pitches. It’s just a matter of commanding them.”
Ike Davis singled in the sixth to end an 0-for-18 start. That was just the second hit for the Mets, who wore their white uniforms instead of their traditional pinstripes for the anniversary game.
Santana needed 27 pitches to get through the first. In the second, he bounced a slider in front of the plate that went to the backstop, allowing Mark DeRosa to score. DeRosa singled leading off the inning and had gone to third on Xavier Nady‘s single to right.
Santana retired 10 in a row, striking out four straight at one point, before allowing back-to-back hits in the fifth.
“I’m very happy at this stage,” Mets manager Terry Collins said, “and five days from now you’ll see him again.”
Despite having thrown 93 pitches through five innings, Santana was allowed to bat with a runner on first and one out. He struck out.
Santana then walked Jayson Werth with his 99th pitch – 56 were strikes – leading off the sixth. He was lifted for Manny Acosta.
“I was able to compete and I feel good,” Santana said. “I told (Collins) I felt good and he let me go back out there. I didn’t come through, but at least I was able to warm up and come back out again. So that’s a good sign.”
NOTES: Roger Craig threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Craig started the Mets’ opener in 1962 at St. Louis, an 11-4 loss. … Collins was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Larry Vanover in the seventh inning. … The Mets drew 197,672 for their first homestand this year, up from 184,429 for their first six home games last year. … Johnson had no new information on Storen (elbow) and slugger Michael Morse (back). He said tests on Morse, who had a setback in a minor league rehab game, were sent to Dr. James Andrews. Storen’s agent says the pitcher had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his pitching elbow. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Sports said Wednesday’s procedure went as expected. … Collins said he wouldn’t be surprised to see 3B David Wright (broken pinkie finger) in the lineup Friday.
Anibal Sanchez made the Nats feel silly, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh in the Marlins 8-0 win on Sunday
Friday – Washington 3, Florida 2 (10 innings)
Saturday β Washington 5, Florida 2
Sunday β Florida 8, Washington 0
It was the same old Nationals, who managed to win two of three games over a Florida team that was on a downward spiral entering the series. It was huge for Washington to take the series, especially after being run out of Philadelphia in a swift three game sweep. However, there are warning signs offensively for the Nationals still as they continue to whiff at the plate. Adam LaRoche’s 10th inning sacrifice fly drove in the winning run for Washington on Friday night. However, this was around 15 total strikeouts and just seven hits, three from Jerry Hairston Jr. and a fourth from the pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. Washington won 5-2 on Saturday thanks mostly to a two-hit performance by Tom Gorzelanny. The lone Marlin runs came on a two-run homer by John Buck in the second inning. The Nationals’ offense also looked somewhat awake with nine hits and 12 baserunners in the game. However on Sunday, the bats switched off again as Anibal Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Washington. Thanks partially to a three-run homer by Gaby Sanchez, the Marlins hit around Livan Hernandez and led 6-0 before Laynce Nix broke up the no-no with a leadoff single in the seventh.
Tom Gorzelanny β The #5 starter for Washington shut down the Marlins lineup on Saturday, scattering just two hits and four walks over seven innings of work. Gorzelanny has been quietly mowing down hitters so far in 2011 and through six starts has a 2.87 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP and opponents are hitting just .163. That’s impressive.
Jerry Hairston Jr. – He struggled mightily along with the rest of the Nats on Sunday, but was solid on Friday and Saturday as he hit a combined 5-for-7. An RBI double in the second inning got the first runs on the board for Washington on Friday, while on Saturday Hairston had another double that eventually led to a run.
The Burnett/Storen Duo β Sean Burnett and Drew Storen kept the Marlins at bay on Friday and Saturday, preserving wins against Florida and grabbing up a save each. A closer by committee approach can be dicey sometimes, but Burnett and Storen have been effective together holding leads.
Offense on Sunday β In Friday’s preview, I said that Sanchez could be up or down, but when’s he’s up, you better watch out. He was certainly on his A-game on Sunday, mowing through hitters like they were swiss cheese, striking out 11 Nationals in the process. Yeah, they got four hits in the final three innings, but the offense was embarrassing on Sunday.
Strikeouts β Yikes, Washington struck out a ridiculous 38 times in three games this series. That’s nearly 13 times per game, which accounts to almost half of the outs in a nine inning game. That’s a good testament to how bad this lineup is right now.
Outfield Depth β Rick Ankiel missed the whole series with wrist problems. Mike Morse has been fighting through a bad knee and only started on Sunday. Jayson Werth has continued to slump and got the day off on Sunday. In short, the outfield has been a disaster as of late.
Three Things to Watch For Re-Visited
The Slump β Well, it continued, as if Nationals’ fans couldn’t tell with the amount of strikeouts on Friday and the six innings of no-hit ball thrown by Sanchez on Sunday. The slump has gone on for so long at this point that some may wonder if the Nationals’ offense is actually this bad.
Good Starts from Zimmerman and Gorzelanny β This ended up being the key to both of the Nationals’ wins this weekend and they were huge. Zimmermann kept the Marlins at bay with two runs allowed in six innings and Gorzelanny’s two-hit performance was outstanding.
Lineup Shuffle β Injuries, platoons and ineptitude have led to a game of musical chairs in the starting lineup. Call-up Roger Bernadina spent tow games leading off, struggling Adam LaRoche is in the cleanup spot, Danny Espinosa has hit his way down to eighth. Quite frankly, no one is hitting so it really hasn’t made a difference.
On Deck Next Week
The Nationals will have a travel day tomorrow as they head to Atlanta to take on the Braves. Then, Washington will be back home and will battle with the Marlins again. This time, it’ll be Florida’s first trip to Washington this season. It will kick off a short five game homestand that includes two games against Pittsburgh on the back end.
Ivan Rodriguez and the Nationals will try to halt their three game slide against Florida this weekend.
The Nationals are heading to South Florida to visit the Marlins after being swept out of Philadelphia by the NL East-leading Phillies. The Marlins won;t be much easier, Florida has surprised a lot of critics by getting off to a 19-11 start in 2011.
This Season vs. Florida
The Marlins took two out of three games during Washington’s first visit to Miami during the opening week of the season. The first game went 10 innings, much of it deadlocked at 2-2. In the bottom half of the tenth, Donnie Murphy knocked a walk-off single against Washington’s Sean Burnett to win the game for the Marlins. Game two, the only game not to go to extra innings, was also won by Florida. After Washington went up 4-0, the Marlins put up a four run fifth inning and didn’t look back en route to a 7-4 win. Livan Hernandez had command issues and the bullpen allowed for Florida to add insurance late. In game three, the Nationals escaped with a win in the 11th inning when Adam LaRoche hit a two-run homer.
A Quick Look at the 2011 Florida Marlins
It may be early in the season, but the Marlins have impressed people by hanging with the star-studded Phillies in the NL East, entering this weekend’s series only two games behind Philadelphia in the division race. Florida is winning the same way that they have their entire existence, with young talent acquired in trades or the draft. Gaby Sanchez leads the team with a .316 batting average and both him and Logan Morrison boast on-base percentages higher than .400. Young outfielder Mike Stanton hit five home runs in April to lead the team. This all with Hanley Ramirez limping through the first month of the season with a .200 batting average. On the mound, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco have been outstanding from the get-go, they have combined for a record of 6-1 so far. The rest of the rotation, however, has struggled and the bullpen can be up and down as Florida lacks a true fireballer in the late innings. It’s hard to say whether Florida is a contender or a pretender at this point in the season.
Scouting the Opposing Pitching
Friday: Ricky Nolasco β Nolasco’s off-speed stuff and his ability to locate it, which has improved with each season, is really what is allowing him to take off this season. Nolasco throws a fastball that peaks in the low-90′s, but his real calling card is his slider. The pitch hits around 85 MPH and has a really late break, throwing hitters off. He can mix and match the slider with a splitter, which is about the same speed as his slider and also has a late break to it. He can also add in a looping curveball that hits around 75 MPH. Nolasco has struggled with location and break on his pitches in the past, but he has become more and more consistent each year. He’ll be tough for the Nationals to hit on Friday.
Saturday: Chris Volstad β Volstad isn’t a huge threat, despite standing like a giant at 6’8β. He got a no decision in his start against Washington last month. Since then, he has allowed five runs in three of four starts and really hasn’t impressed many people. Volstad has a flat, downhill fastball that hits about 93-94 MPH. He has some off-speed stuff with late breaks, like a mid-80′s slider and late-70′s curve, but like I stated in April, there’s nothing real intimidating about facing this guy. He has only 14 strikeouts to 12 walks this season and opponents are hitting .283 against him. He’s nothing more than a back of the rotation guy.
Sunday: Anibal Sanchez β Sanchez is a power pitcher who’s consistency runs wild. He can touch 97 MPH with his fastball and has solid slider that drops down into the low-80′s. However, his command can be there in one start and gone the next. His last start on Tuesday against St. Louis he allowed six hits and six walks in just 4.1 innings. Two starts earlier against Colorado, he through a one-hit complete game shutout, striking out nine hitters in the process. Sanchez has either been really good or really bad so far this season, Washington can only hope that its the latter come Sunday.
What to Watch for This Series
The Slump β It’s been 11 straight games that the Nationals have scored five or fewer runs. You can get away with wins when you face another slumping team, like what happened against the Giants. But the Nationals ran into the Phillies, and saw what a bad slump can do to a team. Now, they have to take on a Florida team that is eighth in the majors in runs scored. The Nats are badly in need of runs.
Good Starts from Zimmermann and Gorzelanny β Jordan Zimmermann and Tom Gorzelanny have been two of the better starters for the Nationals thus far in 2010, Zimmermann for so than Gorzelanny. However, both are coming off great outings against San Francisco and need to repeat their performances to open this series.
Lineup Shuffle β Washington has tried to get out of their slump by moving players every which way in the order. How will these changes affect the team’s offensive output, if at all?
The City of Brotherly Love will be anything but loving to the Nationals and former Phillie Jayson Werth this week, as Washington heads to Philadelphia for a three game series beginning tonight.
This Season vs. Philadelphia
The Nationals lost two of three games against the Phillies in a series in Washington back on April 12-14. As expected, Washington hit Joe Blanton around in the first game to push their way to a 7-4 win. Jayson Werth showed up his old team with a double and a home run and Livan Hernandez was decent on the mound. Then, the second and third games saw Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee take over and dominate Washington’s meager lineup to give Philadelphia wins of 3-2 and 4-0.
A Quick Look at the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have been everything that fans and critics expected this season. They don’t have a great offense, but their pitching has been so dominant that it hardly even matters. Placido Polanco has been the best overall hitter on the Phillies so far, batting at a clip of .385. Ryan Howard leads the team with six home runs, Shane Victorino has a .284 average to go with five stolen bases. Missing Dominic Brown and Chase Utley has dampered the production of this offense a bit, but they are otherwise solid. However, the pitching is the reason why the Phillies are 18-9 right now. Take out the struggles of #5 man Joe Blanton and the entire rotation has ERAs 3.66 and WHIPs below 1.12. The bullpen has also thrown well to help hold opponents to just 90 runs allowed, the fewest in the majors.
Scouting the Opposing Pitching
Tuesday: Cole Hamels β With Halladay and Lee both in town, Hamels has been bumped down to #3 in the rotation, but he may be the best #3 guy in the majors. Outside of a rough year in 2009, Hamels has been solid in his career. His fastball hits around 92 MPH, but his ability to change speeds is what makes him a solid pitcher, he has a great change-up that he moves out of the zone. Hamels also throws a cutter that he began to throw last year and runs in on right-handed hitters. However, his fastball and change-up combo remain his bread and butter. Hamels’ big weaknesses are when he gets hit and allows his head to play games. He cracks under pressure and leaves his pitches out over the plate at times.
Wednesday: Vance Worley β Worley is scheduled to make just his second start of the season, coming into the rotation after Joe Blanton hit the disabled list with elbow trouble last week. Worley may be the one pitcher on this staff that the Nationals can hit. He doesn’t have any outstanding pitches, his fastball is around 92 MPH and he throws a hard change-up and slider along with it. Worley has solid command, he doesn’t walk many batters and keeps his pitches over the plate. The problem is he has trouble striking guys out because his breaking pitches don’t have a ton of movement, nor does his fastball. He lets hitters hit his pitches and hope his fielder do the rest of the work. Anything can happen if you put the bat on the ball against Worley.
Thursday: Roy Halladay β It’s nearly impossible to find anything wrong with Halladay. He ran into some ninth inning trouble against the Nationals during their last meeting ,but escaped with a complete game victory. His fastball his dynamic and he may have the best cutter at the game, it swoops from side to side at 92 MPH. Halladay is a workhorse, completing games at a rate that is unusual for baseball today. When he loses, its normally due to a lack of run support rather than anything else. He’s simply as good as it gets.
Three Things to Watch for This Week
Jayson Werth Returns to Philadelphia β It should be interesting, judging by the reaction from Philadelphia fans in Washington three weeks ago, Werth is sure to get a earful from the Philadelphia fans this week. The exact reaction from the fans will be fun to watch, as well as how Werth performs in his return to Philly.
New Month, New Hitting Trends? – The Nationals were lucky to escape the first month of the season with a record of 14-14 despite having the second-worst team batting average in the major leagues. If the rotation continues to keep Washington in games and the hitting improves, the Nationals may be able to surprise some teams.
Will Jason Marquis Give Fans an Encore? – Marquis was dominant against the Giants on Friday night, shutting out San Francisco and holding them to five hits. Going up against the journeyman Worley on the mound Wednesday, he holds the key to what could be the Nationals’ best opportunity at a win in this series.