Stretching the Field: No need to fret with Strasburg

So what if Stephen Strasburg is 1-4 in five starts.

Who cares that he's mired in the first four-game slide of his career?

Not to sound too reserved, but there's plenty of America's pastime left for the Washington Nationals ace to come around.

And by coming around I mean cashing in on some victories even with a lack of run support. It's still April for crying out loud and Strasburg has been through a winless drought before when he dropped three appearances in a row last June 25-July 6. During this current funk, he is actually pitching well.

His ERA is hovering around the customary at 3.16 and he's only given up more than five hits in a start just once (nine on April 7 at Cincinnati). His walks are down at eight and the 28 strikeouts are in the middle of the pack in the National League.

So why isn't Strasburg near the top in wins?

There's no run production when he takes the mound. If you want to call scoring three runs, which is the most the Nats have accumulated in a game with No. 37 on the hill this season, a productive day, so be it.

Jayson Werth said it best after Wednesday's loss, "We pitch, we don't hit; we hit, we don't pitch."

Some teams tighten up when an ace is on the hill, leaving the responsibility of winning solely on the shoulders of the pitcher. It isn't fair, but that's how this game goes sometimes. Strasburg is easily a victim of no run support as the ballclub is averaging 1.8 runs per game when he's under the spotlight.

How many runs did Washington score in Strasburg's lone triumph? A measly two. But then again, he fired seven shutout innings and turned it over to one of the top bullpens in the majors. It's understandable why the Nationals should be frustrated in wasting opportunities to catch Atlanta in the NL East standings, and manager Davey Johnson said it's time for the Nationals to "get a little mad."

In Strasburg's last start on Wednesday in a 4-2 setback to St. Louis, he was behind the eight ball early after giving up a 3-0 lead in the first inning. He has struggled to throw a first-pitch strike and didn't do his teammates any favors by putting the pressure on them. He fell behind in the count against four of his first five batters, then regrouped with first-pitch strikes to 13 of the next 15.

"I was trying to throw the perfect pitch," Strasburg said. "I tell myself going into the game, 'Don't do that,' and I go out there and I do it. I was really happy that I was able to make the adjustment, get the feeling back."

The Mets got to Strasburg for two runs in the first inning on April 19 and Cincinnati grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first inning on April 7.

Before dismantling Cincinnati, 8-1, on Thursday in the opener of a four-game series, the NL East favorites hadn't scored in 34 of the previous 37 innings. The win over the Reds, which occurred after losing nine of 12 games, evened Washington's record at 11-11. Surprisingly, the rotation has allowed three earned runs or less in nine of the last 10 games. Gio Gonzalez helped that cause with eight innings of one-run ball versus Cincy.

Hope is not lost for the offense and, more importantly, the fortunes of Strasburg. He will start winning again, so just wait and see. The kid's too good to get caught up in a funk and has a load of weapons in his holster: a smoking fastball, deadly curve/slider and a misleading changeup. And to think the velocity on his fastball would alter after Tommy John surgery in 2010.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny isn't fooled by Washington's inconsistent ways over the past few weeks.

"I don't even look at them as scuffling," Matheny said. "They're a team to worry about. They're a good club, and they're going to score their share of runs. It's just a matter of when."

That's correct, skipper.

And the Nationals already got the scoring back on track after Johnson tweaked the lineup, putting Steve Lombardozzi second and Werth fourth in the order.

If the recent surge continues in Strasburg's next scheduled start on Monday at Atlanta, then the glass will be half-full as it should be.