RUSSELL: Strasburg takes on Mad Max after coming up short (again)

Chris Russell
July 23, 2018 - 12:35 pm
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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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Stephen Strasburg returned for the Nationals on Friday night! Yay!

And, then he stunk up the joint! Oh no!

To make matters worse, he barked at and instigated a verbal (at least) altercation with the Nats' best pitcher and performer, Max Scherzer.

Everyone who cares about the Nats has seen some form of video of the incident. Strasburg told reporters you have to be in the "family" to know what happened, and Davey Martinez essentially swept it under the rug, as he does pretty much everything, saying all was fine and both pitchers met with Martinez and this type of thing happens.

Great. Everything is wonderful once again in Nats Land!

Except it's not and it probably won't be.

At least when it comes to Strasburg, and the rest of the season for Washington and its rookie manager.

It wasn't a good look, just one day after a Washington Post report of dissension in the ranks from the bullpen earlier this season towards Martinez.

The Nats are at .500 as they embark on the most critical regular-season road trip since the Matt Williams era, in Milwaukee and Miami this week.

This is the type of acrimony and sniping we normally see at Redskins Park, not at Nationals Park. Bruce Allen is usually the mad scientist at the helm of this type of nonsense, not Mike Rizzo.

COUNTERPOINT: Don't Freak Out Over Stras-Scherz Fight

Perhaps a verbal altercation is no big deal in the end for teammates who are competitive and spend a lot of time together over the course of 162. That's the easy theory, and probably true. But while this isn't the "D.C. Strangler" attempting to choke out Bryce Harper, it is the organization's second-best pitcher barking at its franchise.

Sorry, Stras! That isn't you. Maybe it once was, but it is clearly Mad Max now and tomorrow.

Scherzer proved it again on Sunday. The Nats desperately needed their leader to step up and deliver, after Strasburg was shelled and ignited a mini firestorm, and Scherzer did just that.

He wasn't dominant. He labored through four innings before settling down for a near-dominant final two, to get the Nats out of trouble and to a final rain delay with a 4-2 lead. The Nats went on to win a game they desperately needed with a lot of help from Harper, the bullpen and great defense, but it was the mental tenacity of Scherzer and the bulldog attitude of their leader which put them in position.

That's not something the Nats can count on from Strasburg. Yes, he was very good in the second half in 2017. Sure, he hurled a dominant gem in Game 4 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field last October, while sick, to extend the Nats' season. But he basically had to be forced into that appearance.

Strasburg would not have pitched that day if not for bad weather, a major controversy and a bad public relations blunder. He was great when called upon, but can you bank on that type of tenacity every time? Hell no!

That's why you don't take on the ringleader if you're Strasburg. Even if you're upset at your own performance, or whatever you were frustrated with Friday night. I wish we knew, but Strasburg hates the media, so we're left to speculate.

From a distance, Strasburg comes across as temperamental, injury prone, somewhat soft and incapable of dealing with adversity, such as poor defense or extreme heat and humidity. Scherzer answered the bell on a humid Sunday in a must-win game.

Strasburg might get two starts on this road trip, and if not, he'll get one and then start the very next home stand. The Nats need Strasburg to be dominant again, like he's capable of being. 

Because he was awful on the mound on Friday, and immature – at the very least – in the dugout, choosing to take on the rock of the franchise. It wasn't a good look, Steve. And it's on you to fix this.

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