WASHINGTON — Safe to say, Stephen Strasburg‘s return did not go according to plan.
Making his first start in six weeks, Strasburg was hit hard in the Washington Nationals‘ 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Friday. He allowed six runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings — his second-shortest outing of the season — before getting yanked with two outs in the fifth.
Upon returning to the dugout, Strasburg was greeted by ace Max Scherzer, who patted his teammate on the shoulder and engaged him in discussion. The conversation seemed to escalate quickly, at which point Strasburg arose from the bench and walked briskly down the tunnel toward the clubhouse with Scherzer following closely behind.
“It’s part of family, man. You got to be in the family,” Strasburg said about the incident after the game. Asked whether he and Scherzer had talked again since the incident, Strasburg said: “You’ve got to be in the family. You’re not.”
Strasburg’s postgame comments to the media came after a delay that lasted approximately 15 minutes, during which time he and Scherzer had a discussion with rookie manager Davey Martinez.
When the clubhouse finally did open up to reporters, Scherzer was not in the locker room.
“We had a really good conversation, I’ll just say that,” Martinez said. “It was addressed. Look, they’re very competitive. Everybody is. I’m glad we talked. It’s over. Let’s move forward. These guys are professionals. We’re good. I’m good that we had the conversation. This stuff happens. I’ve been on teams where guys wanted to choke each other. It’s a long season. They get it. They understand. We talk about it. I don’t want to lose sleep about it. It was a really good conversation. I’ll just leave it at that. Things are good.”
It was a conspicuous beginning to the second half of the season for a Washington club that spent the first half being one of MLB’s most disappointing clubs. Expected to win their third straight National League East title, the Nationals came out of the All-Star break with a .500 record and were in third place, 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies. Starting pitching has been at the core of their struggles, especially over the past couple of months.
Since the end of May, Washington’s rotation — which was among the best in baseball over the first two months of the season — has pitched to a 6.04 ERA, worst in the majors. Besides Strasburg, fellow righty Jeremy Hellickson (hamstring) also has spent time on the disabled list. Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark have scuffled too, combining for three quality starts in 13 tries since Strasburg went down in early June with shoulder inflammation.
Strasburg and Scherzer have been teammates since the beginning of the 2015 season, when Scherzer came to Washington after signing a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract. In May 2016, Strasburg, whom Washington took with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, signed a seven-year, $175 million contract extension to stay in the nation’s capital.
Last season, Scherzer and Strasburg led the Nationals to a 97-65 record and their fourth playoff appearance in six years. Scherzer went 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA, winning the Cy Young Award for a second straight season and the third time in his career.
Strasburg went 15-5 with a 2.52 ERA and placed third in the Cy Young voting, the best finish of his career.
Following Friday’s loss to Atlanta, Strasburg dropped to 6-7 on the season with a 3.90 ERA. Scherzer is 12-5 with a 2.41 ERA. He also was the NL starter in the All-Star Game, which took place on Tuesday at Nationals Park.
Earlier this month, after a stretch in which Washington had lost 17 of 22 contests, the 33-year-old Scherzer called a players-only meeting. Since then, the Nationals have posted a 6-6 record.