Strasburg on 15-day disabled list
It was pretty clear from Stephen Strasburg's recent poor performances that he has had some kind of physical ailment, and indeed today we learned that he has a sore elbow and will be on the disabled list for 15 days. Strasburg says it's not serious, and this is probably just a precautionary move to make sure that he is in top condition to make a big playoff run six weeks from now. See MLB.com. So why didn't he ask to be taken out of the rotation sooner?
After amassing a 15-1 record on August 1, with a 14-1 stomping of the Diamondbacks, Strasburg lost his former dominance and was the victim of multi-run attacks. In Washington on August 6 he lasted only 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to the Giants, on August 12 he went 5 1/3 innings in an 8-5 loss to the Braves, and in Denver on August 17, he only lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up 9 runs. (Final score 12-10.) So now his record is 15-4, and his chances of winning the Cy Young award are going down the tubes. After the spectacular first three and a half months he had this year, it's a real shame.
To replace Strasburg, A.J. Cole was called up from the minors and performed extremely well on the mound in Baltimore this evening. He struck out three of the first four batters he faced, and showed very good command during seven full innings, but two home runs were all it took for the Orioles to win tonight, 4-3. Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa hit solo homers, but the Nats went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Wilson Ramos, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman all share the blame for those missed opportunities.
I checked my Nationals Media Guide and learned that Cole was the starting pitcher in the memorable April 28, 2015 game in Atlanta when the Nats overcame a 9-1 deficit after two innings to beat the Braves, 13-12. It's not something that a pitcher wants to be remembered for. That game was a lot like the Nats-Rockies game last week, in fact! Cole pitched as a reliever twice in May last year, and got one save, evidently showing improvement.
Nationals almost sweep the Braves
In the two weekend games, the Nationals built comfortable leads over the Braves, but in both cases the home team made spirited comebacks. The Nats bullpen was already fatigued after the short outings by Scherzer, Gonzalez, and Strasburg last week, and not having a travel day between the series in Denver and Atlanta only made things worse. On a bright note, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in his first at bat since returning from the disabled list, and got two more hits after that. Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also homered, and the extra runs came in handy as the Braves closed the gap in the late innings. Final score: 11-9.
It was a similar story on Sunday, as Gio Gonzalez had another fitfull, off-and-on day pitching. The Nats scored four runs in the third inning, and it would have been [even] more if Braves' center fielder Jace Peterson [had not] made an amazing, suicidal catch of a would-be extra-base RBI by Chris Heisey, smashing into the wall and holding on to the ball for the third out. He was dazed and crouched over for more than a minute, and I thought sure he would come out of the game, but he shook it off and kept playing. That highlight-reel catch briefly changed the game's momentum, as the Braves came back with three runs in the bottom of the third. In the sixth inning, Chris Heisey hit a two run homer, but again the Braves responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, with the score 6-4, Matt Kemp hit a leadoff homer, and the Braves quickly loaded the bases with nobody out. Yusmeiro Petit committed a fielding error, in addition to giving up another hit and a walk. [There were five errors by the Nats in that game, the most of any of their games this year.] Blake Treinen then came in to pitch and induced a double play but the Braves scored the tying run, meaning that he was charged with a blown save. So it went into extra innings, and with two outs in the bottom of the tenth, none other than Jace Peterson hit a walk-off home run to end it. Braves 7, Nats 6. It was frustrating not to complete the four-game sweep, but you can't win 'em all...
Zimmerman is clean!
Seriously, was there ever any doubt? An investigation by MLB officials found that neither Ryan Zimmerman nor Ryan Howard (of the Phillies) have used performance-enhancing drugs. Those reports by Al Jazeera (see Jan. 11) were without any foundation whatsoever. It was a nice coincidence that the news came out just as Ryan returned to the Nats' lineup after a couple weeks on the DL. See the Washington Post.
Another Harper moon shot
In discussing the series in Denver last week, I should have mentioned that Bryce Harper hit another tape-measure home run. (Bruce Orser wanted to make sure I knew about that!) It was during that Wednesday afternoon game where they Nats were struggling to come back from an early 9-2 deficit. According to hittrackeronline.com, it would have gone 481 feet, and that's about what I would say. The ball landed a few feet to the right of the left-most entry portal in the second deck of Coors Field, just to the right of the evergreen tree "park" beyond center field. The ball flew about 450 feet in the air, and landed about 38 feet above the ground. The high-elevation no doubt added at least 20 feet to the distance the ball would have flown under normal conditions. It went about  feet farther than the blast Harper hit to the upper-deck in right field in Nationals Park last month.