Opposing hitters couldn't figure out Stephen Strasburg (again) on Sunday. At the same time, however, Strasburg couldn't figure out the pitcher's mound at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
A couple of slips, some consternation and a little digging kept Strasburg from focusing entirely on the task at hand, and it showed in his stat line: 5.1IP, 2H, 1ER, 5BB, 8K.
While he only gave up the two hits -- including a line-drive homer to right off the bat of Travis Hafner -- it was the walks that got him into trouble, which was something he avoided in his first start at Nats Park.
Strasburg recorded the first two walks of his career in the fourth inning when he gave back-to-back free passes to Carlos Santana and Hafner. He seemed to have some trouble with the mound during the inning, but was able to strike out the next two batters to get out of the jam. He walked another in the fifth, but was again able to avoid an Indians rally.
The sixth inning, however, was a different story.
After getting the first out of the inning, Strasburg gave up a hit to Santana and then walked Hafner and Austin Kearns to load the bases. He also ran into some mound trouble. Strasburg's plant foot slipped forward on at least one pitch to Hafner in the inning, forcing the grounds crew to come out, add some clay and tamp it down.
But after seeing the three batters get on base in a row -- and noticing that Strassy's pitch count was at 95, manager Jim Riggleman decided it was time to shut him down for the day.
After the game Riggleman said he didn't want to make excuses, but the coaches noticed Strasburg having some problems with the mound.
"Going back to the second or third innning, we saw him scratching around out there," Riggleman told MASN after the game.
While one No. 1 pick exited the game in the sixth, another entered. Drew Storen, the No. 10 pick in the 2009 draft, came in with the bases loaded and one out and bailed out his fellow rookie. He got Russell Branyan to pop out to shallow right and struck out Jhonny Peralta to end the inning.
Strassy owes Storen a cameo in his next Letterman appearance for that one.
Thanks to Storen, Strasburg left the game in line for the win with a 6-1 lead.
The lead would hold up, despite Miguel Batista's shaky ninth inning, as the Nats went on to win, 9-4.
That's two starts for Strasburg, with two very different outcomes. But that's to be expected from a rookie pitcher, even one with as much talent as Strasburg.