Marlins knock out ace after three innings
The fans at Nationals Park never even got to say goodbye.
Stephen Strasburg's final start at home this season was a struggle from the beginning, and for the second time in 10 days the Miami Marlins knocked him from a game with surprising speed. When Nats manager Davey Johnson sent Corey Brown up to pinch hit for his pitcher in the third inning, the crowd realized it likely would not see the ace again until next April.
The Marlins battered Strasburg for two home runs, two doubles and drew three walks on the way to an eventual 9-7 victory in 10 innings over Washington on Friday night. The 24-year-old is expected to make one more start this season Wednesday in New York against the Mets before the organization shuts him down early in his first full season back from reconstructive elbow surgery.
Johnson threw that plan into some doubt with cryptic comments afterward. Asked whether the short outing would have any effect on the plan to shutter Strasburg, he said only "it might" before departing the podium.
Whether that means another start or just stopping his season right now remains to be seen. But assuming it was Strasburg's final Nationals Park performance of 2012, it was not an auspicious end. He gave up five runs on six hits in the shortest outing of his career. Johnson afterward sensed an obvious reason for Strasburg's struggles.
"To be honest with you, I think [Strasburg] just is thinking too much about the decision when we're gonna shut him down," Johnson said. "And he kind of wore it. He didn't like it. But that's the way it is."
For all the controversy over the Nats' decision to end Strasburg's year in the middle of a pennant race, he has the worst ERA of any of their five starters since the All-Star break (3.70). That's 25 earned runs allowed in 601Ú3 innings since July 15. But the pitcher himself disagreed with his manager's theory. He had a far simpler one.
"I just don't think I pitched well," Strasburg said.
Indeed, his fastball command was nonexistent, and that allowed Miami batters to wait patiently on his off-speed offerings and then tee off when they figured a fastball was on the way. His teammates, too, were reluctant to say that the shutdown controversy, which has generated intense media coverage all across the country, including by outlets that don't strictly cover baseball, has become an issue.
"It's hard to say it was a lack of focus," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "[Strasburg] is such a competitor out there."
"He's not gonna throw a no-hitter every single time," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "He is human."
Strasburg's command was off from the start after he walked leadoff batter Bryan Petersen. The Marlins had repeatedly jumped on his fastball in an Aug. 28 outing in Miami, where he gave up five runs in five innings, but showed some restraint early in this one as Strasburg proved his own worst enemy. An RBI double by Giancarlo Stanton opened the scoring, and a sacrifice fly by Carlos Lee put Washington in a 2-0 hole.
Zimmerman answered in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer to left. But Strasburg couldn't hold it there. In the second, No. 8 hitter Rob Brantly turned on a fastball and deposited it into the right-field seats. Stanton did the same in the third inning. It was the fourth time this season Strasburg has allowed two homers in the same game.
Greg Dobbs followed with a double and scored on a base hit by teammate Donovan Solano. Just like that it was 5-2, and Strasburg was finished ?-- only the fans didn't know it yet. His first turn at bat came in the third, but Johnson decided he had seen enough. No applause, no goodbye. Just thanks for the memories and see you next season.
"I think as a professional you want to go out there and give it everything you have every single time out," Strasburg said. "So that's what I want to go out there and do. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough."
His teammates tried to pick him up. They greeted Miami reliever Carlos Zambrano with a single and two doubles in the seventh to score two runs. An infield hit by Steve Lombardozzi and a throwing error by Solano, the second baseman, let Suzuki come home with the fifth run. Michael Morse then tied the game with a dramatic solo homer in the eighth.
But in the 10th inning, Jose Reyes tripled home two runs against Nats closer Tyler Clippard and later scored on a sacrifice fly. Washington tried to rally in the bottom of the frame after an RBI single by Morse. It had runners at second and third with no one out and the bases loaded with one out, but Marlins closer Steve Cishek struck out the side to end it.
"I thought we were gonna win. I definitely thought we were gonna win," Suzuki said. "That's the beauty of it. This team never gives up. It was exciting to the very end, and unfortunately we didn't come up on top."