Lots of people will look at this game against the Nats and Rays and say the Nats should have scored more runs against a pitcher who was struggling in the minors, but here is the thing it is hard to give much credence to minor league stats. There are a lot of unknown variables that going into how those stats are compiled. Archer had a 4.81 ERA in the minors but he also had a 10.6 K/9.
Archer who was ranked by Baseball America as the 79th best prospect in the country coming into this season was producing his own outs but his ERA points to his fielders letting him down. He also had a BB/9 of 5.3 so it could be that he also struggled with control and while he didn’t give up too many hits when he did men were on base. That is another one of those deceiving things about looking at stats to judge a player.
Most of those walks could have come earlier in the season and the Rays are an organization that have shown in the past that if a player isn’t ready for the majors they aren’t going to play in the majors. Obviously in Archer they saw someone who was ready, and while he did look wild at times 4 of his 7 strikeouts were looking. It is also important to remember that for pitchers unfamiliarity can be a dangerous weapon.
Still after the Nationals scored 3 runs on 3 hits in the first inning it looked like the Nats were going to be in for a good night at the plate. To lead off the game Lombardozzi doubled to left and was driven in by a Harper single with Harper advancing to second on the throw. When Zimmerman grounded to the short stop it looked like it would be a routine play to get Zim at first. The ball was hit slightly in front of Harper and without hesitation he took off for third. The reputation of his daring and speed on the base paths proceeds him and it forced Elliot Johnson to hurry a throw that rolled into the Rays dugout allowing Harper to score and Zimmerman to move to second.
LaRoche would become both Archer’s first out as a major leaguer and his first strikeout victim as he struck out looking, but Zimmerman would move to third on a wild pitch during that AB. With another shot to drive in a runner at third with less than two outs Morse grounded out to the drawn in short stop. Like he did one the Nats recent 6-0 road trip Desmond came to the plate after two of his teammates had failed in their situational hitting duties, and picked them up with a two out RBI single to drive in Zimmerman and what ended up being the deciding run.
If Archer’s bad first inning told nothing of what was to come for him Strasburg’s first inning told everything he was to do on this night. Strasburg made quick work of the first two batters he faced striking them both out looking and appeared to have his fastball, change, and curve all working. Then he walked Upton denying himself a smooth first inning before getting Matsui to ground out to Desmond. All night long Strasburg would get two quick outs before letting the third batter reach base. He did so in 4 of the 7 innings he pitched, and both of the Rays runs were scored on two out base hits with one being a Jose Molina homer in the second.
Strasburg would end the night pitching seven strong innings and striking out 10 for his sixth double digit strikeout game of his career. Archer would rebound from his bad first inning and not give up a hit to the Nationals in his final five innings. Burke Badenhop and last evenings pine tar hero Joel Peralta would follow Archer and neither of them would allow a hit to the Nationals. In fact the only Nationals base runner after the first inning was Bryce Harper who drew a third inning walk and was quickly erased on a Zimmerman GIDP.
In the end the Nationals were able to hang on because of the strong and resilient pitching of Strasburg and the excellent relief work of Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard. Burnett gave up one hit to Carlos Pena before getting BJ Upton to fly out and Matsui to ground into a double play. Clippard would strike out both Zobrist and Molina around a fly out by Elliot Johnson.
This was the seventh time Strasburg has taken the mound following a lose and in all but one of those the Nationals won, and that one loss was when Henry Rodriguez blew a save in LA and Matt Kemp walked off Gorzelanny in the bottom of the tenth. Every time the Nationals have needed Strasburg to play stopper this season he has done so, and with Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann behind him he doesn’t just have the ability to halt losing streaks he also has the ability to start winning streaks.