Despite woes, Strasburg set for next start

Despite woes, Strasburg set for next start

PHOENIX -- Despite his recent back problems and Tuesday's night's 14-6 loss to the D-backs, during which he couldn't locate his pitches in the strike zone, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is on track to make his next start Sunday in his hometown of San Diego.

"I mean, I'm concerned about him being healthy, and he's healthy," manager Matt Williams said on Wednesday before his club closed a three-game series at Chase Field. "[Tuesday] night, he was throwing the ball 96, 97 mph and feeling good about it. Location will come for him.

"There's a lot being made of it, the fact that he had a bad night. But he'll be ready on Sunday, and I'll be happy to give him the ball because he's one of our great pitchers."

Strasburg left his May 5 start after three innings when his back tightened up. The injury originally was reported as inflammation of his right shoulder. Tuesday night's start statistically was the worst of Strasburg's six-year career, as he gave up eight runs for the first time in 116 outings.

Strasburg on shoulder irritation

Everything looked hittable as the D-backs pounded out eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits, including homers by Ender Inciarte and Mark Trumbo, who had two in the game. Williams pulled Strasburg after throwing 72 pitches, the final one Trumbo hit for a three-run homer with one out in the fourth.

Strasburg said after the game that he was embarrassed. "I let the team down," he said.

He also said the problems were more mechanical than physical. His fastball was up in the zone and he couldn't spot his breaking pitchers, using his slider more than usual to find some sort of consistency.

Asked how his back felt, Strasburg said: "It's good enough."

Every start is big, but Strasburg's next one will hold special meaning. He grew up in San Diego in the community of West Hills and played his college ball for the late Tony Gwynn at San Diego State before the Nationals made him the No. 1 pick in of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

He's pitched only once before in his hometown as a big leaguer, allowing two runs on three hits in eight innings to earn a 6-2 win over the Padres at Petco Park on May 16, 2013.

Right now, Strasburg is 2-4, and his ERA ballooned to 6.06 -- nearly three runs higher than his career mark of 3.18 -- after Tuesday night's debacle. On the field, this is his most sustained period of adversity in his career, but Strasburg will keep working at it, said pitching coach Steve McCatty.

"You've just got to keep grinding and grinding and grinding," said McCatty, a right-hander who was 63-63 with a 3.99 ERA in nine big league seasons, all with the A's. "That's as bad as I've seen him as far as making mistakes with some pitches. It's never fun. It's never easy. He just has to get back out there and make good pitches until he has that game that locks him back in. That's all. He's just too good."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.