Strasburg again underwhelmed in his 2015 debut, giving up six runs, three earned, on nine hits in five and two-thirds ineffective innings in a 6-2 loss to the Next Next Big Thing, New York Mets starter Matt Harvey, Thursday afternoon.
That Harvey was dominant in his first regular-season start back from Tommy John surgery (one run on four hits in six innings, with nine Ks and no walks) only added to the ugly picture for Strasburg, the first pick in the 2009 MLB Draft.
Strasburg had his own early-career Tommy John surgery, in 2010, and was famously shut down in 2012 after posting a nice stat line (15-8, 3.18, 197K/159.1IP, .230oppBA).
Then came the beginning of the muddle: 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA in 2013, and 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA in 2014.
It’s being picky to say that Strasburg isn’t putting up good numbers. His strikeouts are still good (242 in 215 innings in 2014). Opponent batting average (.240) and WHIP (1.12) were also good last year.
Good, but not great.
It’s hard to pinpoint what the issue is. His velocity is still there, though marginally down every year since his debut in 2010 (his average fastball in 2010 was 97.6, down to 94.7 last year), but that marginal decrease is likely as much him learning how to conserve his resources than anything else.
The troubling thing with his poor first start is that it came on the heels of a subpar spring training (4.20 ERA, .271 oppBA, 1.47 WHIP).
It’s a small sample size, one start, and one marred by another defensive miscue by shortstop Ian Desmond that opened the floodgates in a four-run third.
The Nationals don’t need Strasburg to be the Next Big Thing to do what they want to do in 2015. With the embarrassment of riches that manager Matt Williams has to trot out to the mound every night, the Nats can get by with the 2014 Strasburg in the three slot.
He has work to do to be a number three.
Who would have imagined saying that about Stephen Strasburg a few years back?
– Column by Chris Graham