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McCatty to Strasburg: "You just have to deal with it"

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McCatty to Strasburg: "You just have to deal with it"

PHOENIX — Nobody has been a more trusted resource for Stephen Strasburg since he arrived in the big leagues in 2010 than Steve McCatty, and right now the struggling Strasburg may need nobody more than the Nationals pitching coach.

McCatty’s advice for Strasburg to help get him past the worst prolonged stretch of his career: “You just have to deal with it.”

“That’s all,” he said Wednesday morning at Chase Field. “Keep pushing. I’ve always said: The way you learn is through failing. It’s a struggle all the time. You’ve just got to keep grinding, grinding and grinding. He’s too good.”

Strasburg hasn’t been particularly good in recent weeks, and everything came to a head Tuesday night when the right-hander was crushed for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings by the Diamondbacks, raising his ERA to a shocking 6.06.

MORE NATS: AN EJECTION AND A GRAND SLAM WIN 

“That was just as bad as I’ve seen him, as far as making mistakes with some pitches,” McCatty said. “After 5-6 years, to have one game that was really like that … you’ve got to throw it out the window. You’ve just got to get back out there and trust yourself and make your pitches. That’s all. It’s never fun. It’s never easy. It’s always easier saying it.”

Despite the occasional hiccup along the way, Strasburg had been among baseball’s most-successful starters since his debut. From 2010-2014, his 3.02 ERA ranked eighth among all MLB pitchers with at least 100 games started. His rate of 10.34 strikeouts per nine innings was best in baseball.

That has made his struggles this season all the more striking. His current 6.06 ERA ranks 106th out of 112 qualifying starters in the majors, while his 1.71 WHIP ranks 111th

“And that’s what makes it such a big focus,” McCatty said. “You try not to get too upset by it, but you do notice it, because that doesn’t happen with him very often. But maybe sometimes we should say: ‘Well, he’s pretty good.’ I always say the standards everybody’s thrown for him … when he does have this little spell that he hasn’t had before, it’s like, boom! It’s like a red light goes off. But for a lot of other people, you just say it’s a part of playing. He’s struggling. For him, it’s a little more noticeable because he’s so good. So the tendency is always to expect the most from him. But he’s going to get through it. He’s just got to fight.”

Despite an issue with discomfort under his shoulder blade during his previous start against the Marlins, Strasburg reported no problems Tuesday night. His velocity remained at its normal levels, with a fastball that averaged 97 mph.

But Strasburg’s mechanics continue to be off, possibly a byproduct of a minor ankle sprain he suffered in spring training that made it difficult for him to plant his left foot on a proper line toward the plate when throwing. And those mechanics have led to poor command, so much so Tuesday night that Strasburg wound up resorting to his rarely used slider out of desperation. He threw that pitch nine times, more than his curveball, and wound up serving up a towering home run to Mark Trumbo on it.

“We’ve talked about it and how he’s been throwing it on the side,” McCatty said. “And sometimes in games you’d like to pick and choose your spots to use it. Not that I’ve had a chance to talk to him and catcher Wilson [Ramos] about why they used it so much and who called it. We let those go every once in a while for a period of time. But I’ll find out what their thought was behind it. For me, it was not the right pitches and mistakes with them.”

Strasburg is slated to make his next start Sunday in his hometown of San Diego, and manager Matt Williams said there’s no plan for that to change.

The Nationals simply expect him to snap out of this funk.

“It’s funny, pitching is kind of like hitting. It’s an up-and-down thing,” McCatty said. “You’re not going to be at the top the whole time, but you want to stay as close to it as you can. It’s an up-and-down thing sometimes. You can go out and the first inning you throw, you say, man, it just clicks. Here it is. I feel good.

“Again, I have not sat there and talked with him that much. But I’m sure everybody … my thoughts would tell me you’re being a little more defensive than offensive. But as far as the physical stuff, the velocity, everything is there. He says he feels fine. So just keep going. A few tough starts, you can’t give up because of that. I’m not saying he is. But you just have to battle through it. Everybody does.”

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper came back to the District on Monday. No baseball was played.

Rain storms cycled through the DMV starting around 6 p.m. at first delaying the series-opening game between the Nationals and Phillies, before it was finally postponed at 10 p.m. The game will be made up as part of a split-doubleheader on Wednesday. The first game is at 1:05 p.m., the second at 7:05 p.m.

The Tuesday starters for both teams remain the same: Patrick Corbin for the Nationals and Jake Arrieta for the Phillies.

Washington will need an extra starter during the week because it is playing seven games in six days. For instance, the Nationals could call someone up to pitch the first game Wednesday, and have Max Scherzer pitch on regular rest Wednesday night. The doubleheader being played Wednesday instead of Tuesday allows the Nationals plenty of time to import a starter for the day, if they choose to do it then.

However, Tuesday’s forecast is also rain-filled. Stay tuned.

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

WASHINGTON -- Jackson Rutledge may still be years away from the majors, but as the Nationals' 2019 first round pick toured the team's ballpark for the first time on Monday, he sure looked the part as a big leaguer.

At 6-foot-8, Rutledge towers over everyone currently on the Nationals' roster. He's got prototypical pitcher size with a fastball that reaches triple digits.

Like any pitcher recently drafted, no matter the round, there is a good chance Nationals fans will not hear Rutledge's name again for quite some time, if they hear it again at all.

In the previous eight years, the team used their first pick in the draft on a pitcher six times. Only two of them - Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde - have pitched in a Nationals uniform, and only Fedde is currently on their roster.

Rutledge, 20, will begin his journey with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. He heads there on Friday, hoping it will not be long before he is back in Washington.

"This is my first time in D.C.," Rutledge said. "Amazing stadium."

Rutledge signed his first contract with the Nationals on Monday and passed a physical in the morning. In the afternoon, he walked around the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice, introducing himself to manager Davey Martinez and players who could be his future teammates.

Rutledge has said in various interviews since being drafted earlier this month that he looks forward to playing with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals' three ace starters. 

This was his first glimpse at them in-person.

"Meeting all the big league guys was really cool," he said. "I just want to be one of those guys that has that success."

If there was any impression Rutledge left on Monday, beyond his height, it was his eagerness to learn. He cited several of his mentors over the years, former big leaguers like Andy Benes who coached him in summer ball and Woody Williams, an assistant coach at San Jacinto Community College. He mentioned Tom Arrington, head coach at San Jacinto, and his attention to detail.

Rutledge even had praise for Ross Detwiler, a former Nationals pitcher whom they took in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He explained how Detwiler taught him a changeup grip during an offseason workout that he has continued to use.

Those are the people, he says, who helped him arrive at this unexpected place in his life as a first-round draft pick.

"If you asked me a year and a half ago where I would be, I probably wouldn't say the first round. It worked out really well because of how hard I worked," Rutledge said.

His college numbers were certainly impressive. Rutledge held a 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 13 starts. As a freshman at Arkansas before transferring, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts.

Rutledge is now looking forward to taking the next steps in his development. He said working on his curveball and changeup will be the focus while he's in the GCL. He wants to add weight and muscle to prepare for next year, his first full pro season. 

Assuming he does someday return to Washington as a big league pitcher, Rutledge said to expect a guy who likes to work fast but without a lot of emotion.

"When things are going well, I really feel in control of the game. I feel like I'm setting the game at my own pace and hitters feel uncomfortable because of that," he said. 

"I'm not a guy that's going to get up and start yelling and give energy like that, I'm more of a consistent kind of flat body language sort of guy."

Nationals fans will hope to get to know him better someday. For now, it's down to the minors to learn the ropes as a prospect.

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