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Alarming stretch has Strasburg befuddled

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Alarming stretch has Strasburg befuddled

PHOENIX — Stephen Strasburg has never pitched like this, not for a somewhat-prolonged stretch. At least not since he came into anyone's consciousness outside of his hometown of San Diego.

Not in three seasons of college. Not in his two months in the minors. Not since he made his major-league debut nearly five years ago.

The numbers, in the wake of a 14-6 thrashing at the hands of the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night, have become alarming. Strasburg's 6.06 ERA ranks 106th out of 112 qualified major-league starters. His .327 opponents' batting average ranks 110th. His 1.71 WHIP ranks 111th.

And neither Strasburg nor the Nationals seem to have a firm grasp how to solve the problem.

"I'm just embarrassed I let the team down," the right-hander said after giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings Tuesday night at Chase Field. "It sucks. I'm just trying to go out there and help this team win some games. I didn't do that tonight."

Once among the most-feared pitchers in the game, Strasburg brought zero intimidation factor to the mound with him in this start. The Diamondbacks hammered him from the get-go, with eight of the 20 batters he faced recording hits, four of them for extra bases, two of them clearing the fence.

His velocity — his fastball averaged 96 mph and topped out at 98 mph — wasn't the problem. But his command certainly was, with six of the eight hits he surrendered coming on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone.

"I left a lot of pitches up," he said. "I didn't hit a spot. They're a good-hitting team. I've got to do better."

And so the obvious questions that were raised after this outing were about Strasburg's mechanics, whether he feels 100 percent healthy and whether those two things could be related. Seven days removed from another abbreviated start in which he complained of discomfort underneath his shoulder blade, requiring a chiropractic adjustment, Strasburg's performance was no better.

Matt Williams insisted health was not an issue.

"The concern coming out of the last one was his health," the manager said. "And I think he passed that one, which is good."

Strasburg was less definitive when asked if his back felt fine during Tuesday's game.

"Yeah, it's good enough," he said.

Whether health or mechanics are part of the equation right now or not, Strasburg's batterymate believes there's a more fundamental reason for the right-hander's struggles.

"I think he's thinking too much," catcher Wilson Ramos said. "In this game, when you're thinking too much, it's hard to do everything right. It's like, for example, a hitter. When a hitter's going to the plate and thinking too much, you're not going to hit the ball well. It happens, too, with a pitcher. He has to go out there and fight and try to do the best he can. You can't go out and think too much. I think that's what's happening with him right now."

Ramos was hopeful when Strasburg took the mound on Tuesday, excited about the way he threw warming up in the bullpen — "Today is probably going to be a good game," he thought to himself — but then surprised when none of that carried over.

"I don't know what was happening with him," the catcher said. "It was really different on the mound from the bullpen."

With Strasburg's fastball command off, his curveball flat and his changeup ineffective, Ramos resorted to calling nine sliders, a pitch Strasburg rarely throws to begin with. That worked briefly but then backfired when Mark Trumbo destroyed the right-hander's final pitch of the night (an 89 mph slider) to left for a 3-run homer.

Williams trudged out of the dugout to take the ball from his starter, and Strasburg trudged back to the clubhouse. His pitching stats place him squarely near the bottom of the sport for the first time in his career, and now he must find some way to get himself back on track.

"Just keep my head down, keep working hard, keep battling, keep fighting," he said.

"I just know that he's got great stuff," Williams added. "His stuff will show itself in the end. We've got all the confidence in the world in him. It hasn't been his best stretch, but he's a competitor."

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.