Dominant. Shut-down. A pitching machine. All these words could be used to describe the Nationals’ pitcher on Tuesday night. But the man who stepped onto the mound just after seven o’clock was not the person the sell-out crowd had paid to see. It was Miguel Batista and he was brilliant.
Boos rained down from the stands as the journeyman swing pitcher started the Nationals’ 3-0 victory over the Braves. The crowd wanted Strasburg, the young flamethrower who has dazzled in his short time with the majors. The fans wanted the strikeouts and domination that have become expected when Strasburg pitches. What they did not know is that they would get exactly that from Batista.
“Miguel’s a pro, he’s done a little bit of everything for us this year,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s been a staff saver for us and tonight he was a lot more than that. He was outstanding.”
While warming up for what was supposed to be his tenth start of his career, Strasburg had trouble getting loose. A decision was made by the Nationals’ general manager to scratch Strasburg from the start as a precautionary measure.
“I just didn’t want him to go out there when he was struggling to get loose in the bullpen,” GM Mike Rizzo said shortly after Strasburg was removed from the game.
The team’s manager agreed with the decision to err on the side of caution when it came to dealing with Strasburg’s stiff arm.
“It was one of those things where we were just being cautious,” Riggleman said. “I didn’t hear in [Pitching Coach] Steve McCatty’s voice that it was something that had a chance to be real serious.”
When Strasburg left the game he went for an X-Ray and MRI to see if there was any structural damage. After the game, Rizzo said that the X-Rays came up negative and the MRI showed no changes in his arm since he was signed by the Nationals.
The team is diagnosing the problem as some inflammation in the shoulder and will be put on anti-inflammatories for treatment.
Part of Batista’s game is to be ready at a moment’s notice, and getting the call to start the game did not faze him in the least.
“It’s part of my job,” Batista said. “I’m one of a few guys that can take the abuse mentally and physically to start with too much rest or no rest.”
It also showed on the field as he cruised through five shut-out innings. He even managed to play into the crowd’s strikeout lust by sending down six Atlanta batters on strikes. Batista was well aware that the packed stadium was not necessarily there to see him pitch.
“I just tried to give the people what they came to see,” he said. “They came to see a twenty year old and ended up having a forty year old.”
Batista, who is actually 39, understood the crowd’s disappointment in seeing an aging swing man who usually comes out of the bullpen during blowouts. Like Tuesday night’s game though, he seemed to take it in stride.
“Imagine you go to see Miss Universe and you see Miss Iowa, you might get those kind of boos,” he said. “But it’s OK.”