There was excitement early in the Nationals Park stands as Stephen Strasburg faced former teammate Edwin Jackson and the Chicago Cubs. The Nats had won six of their last seven entering Saturday’s contest, and the game started as a pitcher’s duel between the former teammates through four innings. Strasburg had surrendered just one hit.
To start the fifth, he recorded an out against Nate Schierholtz and then allowed a double to Cody Ransom to right field, but he was thrown out trying to get to third on a great relay of a Roger Bernadina throw by Danny Espinosa. After that, to say the rails came off for Strasburg would be the quite an understatement.
Ryan Zimmerman committed his sixth error of the season on yet another wide throw to first base on what should’ve been a routine, inning-ending groundout by Wellington Castillo. Strasburg had already started heading toward the dugout, so he had to retake the mound to try to get the last out in the inning against the Cubs number eight hitter, Darwin Barney.
Strasburg proceeded to walk Barney, clearly letting the Zimmerman error affect him. Then, he gave up a two-RBI double to Edwin Jackson. There is no excuse for a pitcher of Strasburg’s ability to be unable to retire one of those two hitters. He then walked David DeJesus and Starlin Castro back-to-back to load the bases before giving up a single to Anthony Rizzo that scored two more, giving the Cubs a four-run inning.
Zimmerman’s error was disappointing, which was compounded by another error with his glove in the seventh inning, but Strasburg absolutely cannot allow the mental side of things to affect him the way that it clearly did today. He showed his frustration on the mound, he looked unsettled and uneasy, and he couldn’t make pitches he had been making with unbelievable ease up until the error.
In his post-game press conference, even Davey Johnson put the fifth inning meltdown on Strasburg, not Zimmerman. He said about Zimmerman’s throwing, “I like where he’s at. It’s exacerbated when the pitcher doesn’t pick us up.” The accumulation of errors by Zimmerman may be concerning, but it’s not what cost the Nats this game.
If Strasburg wants to be the ace pitcher of a good baseball team, he has to control his emotions more effectively. Johnson said he “may have a few words” with Strasburg, who he also called a “perfectionist,” about what happened. He also said that was pitching coach Steve McCatty’s job. Either way, it sounds like someone is going to have a conversation with the talented young pitcher about his ability to deal with adversity.