WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Everyone else has been building outsized expectations for Stephen Strasburg.
This time, maybe he was the one hoping for too much.
Returning from his first trip to the disabled list, Strasburg turned in the worst start of his sometimes-spectacular rookie season, allowing a career-high six earned runs in a career-low 4 1-3 innings Tuesday night, and his Washington Nationals lost to the Florida Marlins 8-2.
"Not one pitch felt like I controlled it," Strasburg said. "Just going to chalk it up as a learning experience and go out there and really compete and not worry about things too much next time."
Dan Uggla drove in four runs with a homer and a double, and Hanley Ramirez hit two of his three doubles off Strasburg (5-3), whose ERA rose from 2.32 to 3.07. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft had not allowed more than three earned runs or lasted fewer than five innings in any of his previous nine major league games.
"Just wasn't his night," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "'Rust' is probably a good word. He just wasn't sharp. His velocity was good."
In other words: Don't panic about one poor outing, and don't forget that Strasburg was consistently in the 98-99 mph range early and touched 100 mph once.
"Arm felt really good. Nice and loose. Everything felt 100 percent. Just didn't know where it was going today," Strasburg said. "Being on the DL, and then coming back, and maybe expecting maybe a little too much out of myself â€” kind of got in my head a little bit out there."
He struck out at least five hitters in each prior start â€” including a high of 14 in his June 8 debut â€” but had only four Ks against Florida, and two were of opposing pitcher Anibal Sanchez. Strasburg gave up six hits and two walks, and went to three-ball counts on five of his first 12 batters.
"When you see guys smacking doubles, hitting home runs," said Mike Stanton, who doubled off Strasburg in the fourth," everyone kind of gets up for that and wants to knock him out early. And that's what happened."
When Strasburg beat Florida on July 16, he threw six shutout innings. Tuesday marked the first time he was facing a big league club for a second time.
"We saw him once before," Stanton said, "so we were a little ready."
Sanchez (9-7), meanwhile, went 6 2-3 innings and both runs he was responsible for were unearned.
"Same thing he always does: any pitch at any time, throwing strikes, keeping you off-balance," Washington's Ryan Zimmerman said.
Strasburg hadn't pitched since a victory at Cincinnati on July 21. His next scheduled start was July 27 at home against Atlanta, but he had trouble getting loose in the bullpen beforehand, prompting general manager Mike Rizzo to scratch the pitcher he signed to a record $15.1 million contract.
Two days later, Strasburg went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.
Although it only had been three weeks since Strasburg last faced major league hitters, his appearance was described as a "long-awaited return" by the PA announcer at Nationals Park. Dozens in the crowd of 25,939 gathered along the walls above the home bullpen to watch him warm up.
His first real pitch was a 99 mph ball to Ramirez, who eventually popped out. But Strasburg walked Logan Morrison and gave up Uggla's 26th homer on a high, 99 mph fastball that started outside but drifted over the inner half of the plate. The ball landed in the red flowers barely beyond the wall in left.
"I'm not going to lie," Uggla said. "I didn't hit that ball good."
Strasburg's take: "He touched it. I supplied all the power for it."
More trouble came in an eventful third, when there was action in Washington's bullpen as Florida took a 4-0 lead.
Strasburg gave up Ramirez's first double, walked Morrison again, was visited by pitching coach Steve McCatty, and eventually gave up Uggla's two-run double over left fielder Josh Willingham's head.
After Ramirez doubled on an 0-2 count in the fifth, Riggleman came out for a visit. Two batters later, Gaby Sanchez doubled off Willingham's glove for a 5-1 lead. That was it for Strasburg, who glanced away while handing Riggleman the ball.
"His games where he struggles, we tend to go a little overboard," McCatty said. "But the kid's actually been pretty doggone good so far. If he has this game one out of 10, I'll be pretty happy with it."
NOTES: Uggla has homered in 10 of his last 16 games. ... Ramirez's three doubles tied a team record. ... Florida hadn't played since Saturday because of a rainout and a day off.