Washington Nationals Rapid Reaction: Harvey Great, Strasburg Not

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Thursday afternoon’s rubber match between the New York Mets and Washington Nationals promised to be a great pitching match up. Matt Harvey was making his first start since August 2013 when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg was on the mound for the Nats. Two of the young turks in the game going head to head.

Harvey delivered, pitching six shutout innings. Strasburg didn’t, allowing six runs, three of them earned, in five and one-third innings.

Strasburg still in same old patterns

The weather was damp and chilly. I expected before the game this would not be one of Strasburg’s better performances and I was right. Strasburg doesn’t tend to pitch well when it is too hot or too cold. He is Goldilocks–he likes it just right. Too much San Diego weather, I expect.

The Mets scored four runs in the third inning after another error by Ian Desmond on a ball that should have allowed the Nats to turn two and get Strasburg out of the inning. Instead, Strasburg had two on and one out and had to face Lucas Duda. Stras hit Duda on the foot to load the bases, then gave up an infield chopper to Daniel Murphy to score a run and leave the bases loaded, then Travis D’Arnaud singled to drive in two. In other words, Strasburg fell apart and lost his concentration after an error behind him.

Nats fans have seen this script play out over and over again with Strasburg. He doesn’t bear down and deal with the batters coming up. He loses his concentration and an error behind him leads to runs being scored.

Early Season Defense Is Still Sketchy

Yes, Ian Desmond committed another error. Ian is in his April pattern of committing 7-8 errors in the first month of the season. That’s the bad news. The good news is that after April he doesn’t usually commit another one for two months. That is no comfort now with one third of the Nats starters on the DL and runs hard to come by.

In an attempt to make up for his earlier error, Desmond overplayed the D’Arnaud hit, chasing after a ball that was Michael Taylor’s responsibility. Taylor might have had a play on the ball if he hadn’t had to pull up because Desmond was in his way. The ball dropped because no one could get to it.

On the infield chopper by Murphy, both Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman went after the ball and got in each other’s way. Zimmerman got to the ball and wanted to throw to first, but Uggla was AWOL and no one was covering. That can’t happen.

Matt Williams Still Has No Flexibility

Matt Williams’ greatest failing as a manager last year was not being able to react to what was actually happening in a game if it did not fall into line with his pre-conceived plan for how the game was supposed to happen.

That failing showed up again today in the sixth inning. It was clear by the bottom of the third inning that Strasburg was not going more than five or six innnings because he had already thrown more than fifty pitches in three innings. At the end of the third I wrote in my notes: “Get Roark Up.”

When it’s chilly and not Strasburg pitching weather, and he’s thrown 50+ pitches in three innings, your plan as a manager has to be adjusted. You aren’t getting six+ innings out of Strasburg today. To avoid burning up your bullpen, you get Tanner Roark up at the end of the third and let him have his starter preparation, and then send him out in the fifth or sixth to take the game the rest of the way.

Instead, Williams sent Strasburg out for the sixth and didn’t pull him out when he allowed two singles to start the inning. Strasburg got Matt Harvey to strike out, and that should have been the end of his day with Curtis Granderson coming up. Strasburg walked Granderson to load the bases and Williams still left him out there to face David Wright. Wright singled in two runs and that was the end of Strasburg’s day. Williams pulled him too late.

Xavier Cedeno came in to get the last two outs of the fifth. Roark pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth. Too bad he didn’t get the opportunity to pitch a scoreless sixth as well.

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