Same As It Ever Was: Strasburg Strong As Nats Fall

Just a little over one year from Tommy John surgery, Stephen Strasburg returned to the mound in Washington, threw five complete innings — and left the game with the Nationals in the lead, 3-0. It almost looked as if the young righty had picked up from where he left off: he threw 56 pitches (40 of them for strikes), while giving up just two hits and striking out four.

Unfortunately for Strasburg, who was in line for the win, the Nationals’ bullpen could not hold the 3-0 lead, and the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to outslug and outscore the Nationals, 7-3. Despite the loss, Strasburg was the story. His fastball topped out at 99 mph, and he seemed in control and comfortable on the mound.

The Nationals had to be pleased with Strasburg’s outing, as it was right on schedule after one year of rehab. The righty will now follow the agenda laid out for Jordan Zimmermann (who also underwent Tommy John surgery), that Nats’ fans are familiar with: four starts to finish the season, an off-season of rest, followed by a closely monitored innings count for the 2012 campaign.

Despite this, tonight’s outing charted a way back, and now sets up a Nationals’ rotation with Strasburg as the number one starter, followed by Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan. The Nationals actually have a lot to choose from, as Davey Johnson tests out the young arms this September. Brad Peacock made his major league debut in relief of Strasburg tonight, throwing a serviceable 1.1 innings — but Johnson is also taking a good look at Chien-Ming Wang, who has looked impressive and Ross Detwiler.

The Nationals also have a handful of young arms, including Tom Milone, who impressed Johnson in his first start, Craig Stammen (who may well get another chance at starting) and even Yunesky Maya — who’s looked consistently inconsistent. But after tonight, despite the 7-3 loss, it’s clear that no matter who’s at four and five, Strasburg will lead the pack.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Not everyone was thrilled by Strasburg’s start. Over on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” Curt Schilling was outspoken in criticism of the decision to put him on the mound. “Why?” he asked. “Why do this when you can give him eight months to get stronger, and bring him out for Spring Training.”

Schilling noted that the Nats are not in contention, and that it looked like the club was intent on selling tickets. While he deferred to the Nationals (“they know him better than I do”), Schilling’s point was that the extra time off would make Strasburg even stronger. Fellow commentator John Kruk agreed.

Tim Kurkjian disagreed, however, saying that the club wanted to get Strasburg reacclimated to pitching in the majors, and that “they want to get him ready for 2012.” But “there’s no way,” Kurkjian said, that the Nationals are going to pitch him for 220 or 230 innings next year.