GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Stephen Strasburg took the mound Tuesday night at Chase Field with even more eyes focused on him than usual, everyone wondering if he would bounce back from last week's abbreviated start that saw the right-hander wincing after several pitches, or whether there was any cause for lingering concern. Very quickly, it became clear Strasburg wasn't going to put questions about him to rest.
The right-hander was roughed up by the Diamondbacks, allowing eight runs (seven earned) in only 3 1/3 innings. He served up homers to Ender Inciarte and Mark Trumbo, couldn't field a routine bunt and couldn't command any of his pitches. There was no wincing apparent this time, but Strasburg's second straight abbreviated outing did little to quash any concerns about him.
This one didn't prove to be much of a game, because the Nationals' lineup did little against Arizona right-hander Rubby De La Rosa, aside from Bryce Harper (who went 2-for-3 with another home run). The Nats' bullpen didn't help matters, either, with Sammy Solis and Matt Grace combining to give up six more runs. The real pitching star, as it turned out, was Clint Robinson, who became the first position player in Nats history (2005-present) to pitch and recorded a scoreless eighth featuring an 81-mph fastball. That at least brought some levity to an otherwise disconsolate Nationals dugout.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It meant very little in this game, and possibly even in the bigger picture, but Harper's sixth-inning homer was a sight to see nonetheless. De La Rosa threw him a changeup down and away, and Harper sort of waved his bat at it, not even following through all the way. Yet somehow he pulled it roughly 380 feet to right-center field for his 12th homer of the season, his seventh in six games. It was a stunning display of the kid's raw power, and further evidence that what he's doing right now is only the beginning of what is still to come.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: There's plenty of debate right now from those trying to figure out what's wrong with Strasburg, whether he's hurt or whether he doesn't have the mental makeup to pitch through adversity. Truthfully, his struggles probably boil down to this: Poor mechanics and poor command. Strasburg has admitted he's having trouble with his alignment as he releases the ball, his plant foot veering too far to the right. That leads to command issues, especially with his fastball. And that fastball (which doesn't move very much) is eminently hittable right now. The end result isn't pretty: Strasburg now owns a 6.00 ERA, 1.69 WHIP and 50 hits allowed in 36 innings this season. He also has reached the seventh inning only once in seven starts so far. All of that is a real concern.
KEY STAT: The Nationals' regular 5-man rotation now sports a 3.62 ERA. Remove Strasburg and that number drops to 3.10.
UP NEXT: The series wraps up with a Wednesday matinee at Chase Field. Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 3.62) faces Jeremy Hellickson (1-3, 5.85) at 3:40 p.m. EDT.