It seemed the kind of day that would set up well for Stephen Strasburg. He’d already defeated the Atlanta Braves twice this year. He’d already won at Turner Field. He’d already won a head-to-head matchup with Braves starter Mike Minor.
And even if he wasn’t at his best, surely his teammates would score plenty of runs against Minor, who entered with a 6.14 ERA, more than double Strasburg’s 2.60.
Only one problem: Washington’s ace couldn’t overcome the record-setting Atlanta heat. Pitching on a day when the temperature hit 106 degrees, on what is being called the hottest day ever in Atlanta — and the temps on the field crept toward 120 — Strasburg couldn’t go out for the fourth inning on Saturday.
Washington manager Davey Johnson took him out after he gave up three runs in the third, and the Braves held on to defeat the Nationals 7-5 on Saturday, handing Strasburg his second consecutive loss.
Johnson later said that Strasburg was dizzy, breathing erratically, slurring his words and that his blood pressure spiked. Strasburg received three IVs after the game, but didn’t go to the hospital.
“He said he was doing OK,” Johnson said. “The doctors obviously are going to monitor him and everything. It’s serious, but it’s not something he can’t recover from.”
It was Strasburg’s shortest outing of the season and tied for the shortest of his career, matching a three-inning stint on Sept. 11, 2011, his second game after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg (9-3) walked four and struck out four on 67 pitches.
“It’s tough out there,” he said. “Obviously, I wanted to go out there and compete. I expected a lot more of myself, so by no means was I going out there thinking I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought I did everything I could to be ready for it, as far as hydrating and everything. Just got to learn from it. It’s a tough situation, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Strasburg spent a few seconds doubled over behind the mound after walking Martin Prado in the third. Jason Heyward then doubled to drive in Michael Bourn, Freddie Freeman hit a sacrifice fly and Dan Uggla followed with a RBI double to give the Braves a 3-2 lead.
Strasburg got out of the inning, but couldn’t start the bottom of the fourth, even after drawing a walk in his plate appearance in the top of the inning.
“A lot of us get a little lightheaded in the heat, and he’s such a gifted athlete that I thought maybe we’d see how he went out and threw the ball in his warm up,” Johnson said. “But when he came back in, he was as white as a sheet. I said, ‘That’s it.’ He wanted to go back out, and I said, ‘No, that’s it.’ When I went out and told the umpire that he can’t continue and to give Chien-Ming (Wang) all the throwing he needs, he said, ‘Well, he was kind of dizzy at home plate.’ It’s scary. That’s a first for me.”
Uggla said he didn’t notice anything wrong with Strasburg until he came to the plate in the fourth.
“The umpire said he thought he looked kind of dizzy after I hit the double,” Uggla said. “It was hot. He was working as hard as he could work. That heat. Sometimes you can’t control it.”
The Braves increased their lead to 7-2 with four runs off Wang, giving Minor and the bullpen enough to hold on for just their second win in seven meetings with the Nationals this year. The Braves had been outscored 31-17 in those meetings before scoring seven on Saturday with a reshuffled lineup featuring Bourn, Prado, Heyward and Freeman as the first four hitters.
“We came in this morning and I thought the first four hitters were the guys who were the hottest, so we put them up there,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Four in a row. … It worked today.”
Minor, who was a teammate of Strasburg on Team USA and was selected six spots behind Strasburg in the 2009 MLB draft, gave up four runs in five innings to improve to 4-6.
Minor and Strasburg said they both guzzled gallons of water in the days leading to their starts and downed bottles of Powerade during the game. When their teams were at the plate, they went to air-conditioned rooms near the dugouts.
“It just didn’t seem to change the symptoms or anything, so it’s tough,” Strasburg said. “I feel like I let the team down today, and it’s just something I have to get over.”