Sometimes in a ball game, one pitch changes the entire course of the game. In the Washington Nationals 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies Monday night, that one pitch was a scary one.
The Nats were leading 2-1 entering the bottom of the sixth and Stephen Strasburg was flat-out dominating, needing just 64 pitches to get through five innings, accumulating seven strikeouts along the way.
But leadoff man Dexter Fowler laced a 1-1 change-up into the right field corner for a triple. On the next pitch, Strasburg’s 95 MPH fastball got away from him, hitting second baseman Marco Scutaro squarely on the front of his helmet. Scutaro stayed down for a bit and eventually got up under his own power, never losing consciousness. But after pacing slowly toward first base, manager Jim Tracy and the team trainer convinced Scutaro his evening was over.
Strasburg was visibly shaken, immediately removing his cap and peering in to the fallen batter. The almost 10-minute delay certainly did nothing to stabilize his nerves. When play resumed, Strasburg fought his control, and a seven-pitch at bat with Carlos Gonzalez ended up with an RBI single for the N.L.’s most complete hitter.
Michael Cuddyer followed with another single to right to load the bases. Veteran first baseman Todd Helton then fought off an 0-2 curveball, driving it deep enough to center field to turn Bryce Harper around, and all three runners took the next base with pinch-runner Chris Nelson crossing the plate. After an intentional walk, Strasburg struck out Wilin Rosario and got Jonathan Herrera to ground out to end the long inning. After a 33-pitch frame, raising his pitch count to 97, his evening was over.
All told, Strasburg (L, 9-2, 2.60) struck out eight in his six innings of work. He allowed three earned runs on six hits and the intentional walk. But that one pitch, the one that struck Marco Scutaro in the helmet, completely changed the complexity of the game.
Strasburg had words with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez as he left the field, and was visibly angry in the dugout the rest of the evening, but he was probably more mad at himself for his lost composure due to the wild pitch that knocked Scutaro from the game.
But the bottom line, as it has been really all season, was the Nats inability to maintain any rallies. They got the leadoff hitter on base each of the first three innings, scoring only in the third inning. They allowed Jeff Francis (who entered the game giving up more than two base runners per inning) to control the game instead of the other way around, reaching the lefty with an ERA over nine entering the game for just two runs on five hits.
It seems as Bryce Harper goes, so goes the offense. And Francis owned Harper, using 69 MPH curveballs to make Harper look as bad as he did against Andy Pettitte last week. Other than Jesus Flores’ three-hit night, and Strasburg’s double in the fifth, there was no pressure — sustained or otherwise — on the Rockies pitchers. The Nats continued their free-swinging ways, striking out 10 times while walking just once.
THE GOOD: Jesus Flores. He went 3-for-4 with two runs. He — and Strasburg — were the Nats offense.
THE BAD: Adam LaRoche. He quietly went 0-for-4, striking out twice against soft-tossing Francis.
THE UGLY: Bryce Harper. His 0-for-4 with three strikeouts was one of his rougher nights as an MLBer.
THE STATS: 8 H, 1 BB, 10 Ks. 2-for-9 with RISP, 6 LOB, 1 GIDP. No errors, no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 8:40 pm against the Rockies. Gio Gonzalez (9-3, 2.55) faces LHP Christian Friedrich (4-4, 5.65).