VIERA, Fla. – Stephen Strasburg allowed three runs on seven hits over six innings as the Nationals fell to the Detroit Tigers 4-3 in Grapefruit League action.
Strasburg will have one more start before his Opening Day matchup against the Marlins on April 1. But that start is scheduled to take place in a minor league game on Wednesday when the Nats play a split squad, facing the Braves in Viera and the Cardinals in Jupiter.
Strasburg gave up a solo home run in the second to Matt Tuiasosopo to right and then in the fifth, he yielded back-to-back RBI singles to Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder.
There was some cause for concern in the fourth inning when Fielder, a Tigers first baseman, hit a line drive back through the box, which Strasburg swiped at with his glove before the ball found its way to centerfield.
Strasburg shook his left hand a couple of times and immediately manager Davey Johnson and pitching Coach Steve McCatty all headed toward the mound to make sure Strasburg was okay. After a few warm up tosses, he stayed in the game.
“It’s a scare, no doubt about it, Johnson said. “I’m glad it his him on the glove hand, I was glad he was shaking that hand,” Johnson said. “That was a bullet, no doubt about it. They said the swelling after the game wasn’t too severe and they thought he’d be alright.”
Strasburg didn’t seem too concerned about it afterwards.
“It’s a little tender,” Strasburg said. “But nothing crazy.”
As for his outing overall, the right-hander threw 89 pitches, 55 for strikes and was working on throwing his curve ball early in the count.
“I’m pretty comfortable with that, throwing off-speed early,” Strasburg said. “But you really can’t control where the ball goes. You can execute pitches, get weak contact and you get it right in on the hands and they flare it out into no-man’s land. That’s baseball and I know over time it will be a different result but I can’t worry about it.”
But as former Orioles and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina used to say, “Once it leaves my hand, it’s out of my control.”
Strasburg had the same feeling today watching some of his best curve balls go through the infield for base hits.
“I’m just sticking to my game plan and not really veering off of it,” he said. “As much as you think they’re going to go in there and try to work the count, see a lot of pitches, they’re just not changing that. They’re up there hacking because they don’t want to see my off-speed.”
He says it’s not easy knowing he is not making his pitches and not getting the results he is looking for.
“Yeah, it’s tough. You can sit there and get frustrated and stuff. But I’d much rather it happen now than when it counts. I’m not saying it’s never going to happen again but I have to con0centrate on what I can control and that executing pitches to the best of my ability and see what happens.”
One thing Strasburg is certain of, he is ready to start the season.
“I think my arm felt great today,” he said. I think my stamina is there. I felt as strong and loose in the first inning as I was in the sixth so I could have gone back out there, for the rest of the game to be honest. Those are good signs and it’s going in the right direction.”
Romero in the fold
Looking for insurance for their bullpen, the Nationals signed left-handed relief pitcher J.C. Romero to a minor league deal with an invite to the big league camp. Romero is expected to accompany the team to Port St. Lucie when they play the Mets Saturday.
Romero is coming off pitching in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and he provides insurance for the Nats but he was told by GM Mike Rizzo that he would not make the big league club out of spring training.
“It’s been conveyed to him that it’s not realistic,” Rizzo said. “He will go to the minor leagues, perform down there and if he can help us down the road, we’ll go grab him.”
Romero pitched for the both the Cardinals and the Orioles last season giving up 12 runs in 12 innings over 16 games. Rizzo, after watching Romero pitch in the WBC, said his fastball velocity is up and he could be used the same way Michael Gonzalez was used by the club last year.
The Nats will head into the season with one left-hander in the bullpen (Zach Duke) and the club has been looking for help from the left side after losing Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Gonzalez. All three left the team after last season.
“He gives us insurance in that area,” said manager Davey Johnson. “Since we lost three pretty good left-handers last year, we are trying to replenish that in house.”
Nats starting pitcher Chris Young, who was brought into camp to add starting pitching depth, has an out clause in his minor league deal, which he can exercise on Sunday.
The team would like to keep Young as a sixth starter in case someone in the rotation goes down with an injury but Rizzo says if a major league opportunity comes along, he won’t stand in the way of Young taking it.
“Players like that, I always like to do what’s best for the player,” Rizzo said. “You could see that (earlier this week) with Chris Snyder. We saw an opportunity for Chris to make the big leagues. We didn’t have to release him, he had no out in his contract and we could have kept him to the end, but we felt like with my relationship with him, it was the best thing for us to release him knowing the Angels were going to sign him.”
Carlos Rivero’s situation is a little different. He is out of options and the Nationals can either try to trade him or designate him for assignment. But it’s more than likely another team would claim him. If not, the Nats can then send him back to Triple-A.
Rivero had a great season for Syracuse last year hitting .303 with 10 homers, 28 doubles and 64 RBI.
Meet the Mets
The Nationals travel to Port St. Lucie to face the Mets at 1:10 p.m. Saturday. Gio Gonzalez will pitch for the Nationals.