Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and the Braves get another shot at Stephen Strasburg.
Every pitcher has a book (usually mental, sometimes physical) on every hitter he's ever faced. And every hitter has the same for every pitcher he's faced. Over the course of time, they come to know what to expect from their opponent. Whether the pitcher likes to throw breaking balls to get ahead in the count. Whether the batter is susceptible to changeups low and inside.
Once one side has figured out the other, it's up to that player to recognize what his opponent is trying to do to him and make the necessary adjustment. Start throwing fastballs earlier in the count. Lay off those changeups. At which point there's a whole new round of adjustments made. It's a never-ending cycle, and it's what makes this game so intriguing to so many.
Any pitcher can fool an opposing lineup the first time he faces them. But can he make the necessary adjustments to do it again the next time they square off?
For the last seven weeks, Stephen Strasburg has enjoyed the luxury of mowing down opponents who had never faced him before. It's a decided advantage for the pitcher, especially one with his incredible tools. But tonight, for the first time, the advantage will shift to the opposition. The Braves, who already met Strasburg June 28 in Atlanta, become the first team to face him twice.
That first encounter followed a familiar Strasburg script for most of the night. He labored a bit in the first inning, giving up two hits but escaping without allowing a run. Then he cruised, at one point striking out five in a row. But in the seventh inning of a scoreless game, Strasburg suffered his most significant meltdown as a big leaguer. He walked Chipper Jones, allowed a single to Brian McCann and then cringed as Ian Desmond booted a tailor-made double play grounder that opened the floodgates to a five-run inning.
Strasburg was hardly to blame for that 5-0 loss. The Nats lineup did nothing against Tim Hudson, and their defense imploded during that fateful seventh inning. The rookie pitcher, though, shouldered the load afterward.
"Not good enough to win the game," he said. "Period."
In the short time we've known Strasburg, we've come to learn several things. He's an intense student of pitching and can self-analyze an outing like a 15-year veteran. He's also a fierce competitor who despises losing and can't wait to get another crack at an opponent who has previously toppled him.
The Braves -- who unlike in the previous encounter, will have stud rookie right fielder Jason Heyward in the lineup tonight -- will probably enter this game with some amount of confidence having already seen and beaten Strasburg once.
Something, though, tells me Strasburg has had this date circled on his calendar for the last month and can't wait to show the Braves what he's learned and what adjustments he's made since they last saw him.