Strasburg is scheduled to make his final start on Sept. 12 in New York before the Nationals shut him down. But the usually talkative Johnson turned cryptic when asked if this shorter outing might affect the team's plans for Strasburg and that last start.
"It might," Johnson said.
Strasburg gave up five runs on six hits in the season-low three innings, needing 67 pitches to get through them before Johnson pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the third with Miami already leading, 5-2.
"I think he just was thinking too much about the decision [to] shut him down," Johnson said. "He kind of wore it. I think he wasn't focused as much on the game as he was on the impending shutdown. [That's] just the way I read it. I can understand where he's at."
Strasburg didn't take the loss because Washington came back to tie it in the eighth, but Johnson said the whole situation is clearly bothering the pitcher. After the game, Johnson said he hadn't spoken with Strasburg yet, but knows, from earlier conversations, that he's been having some trouble sleeping while dealing with all of this.
Strasburg said he simply didn't command his fastball well, kept falling behind in the count and just didn't pitch a good game. When asked if it was hard to focus, Strasburg didn't hesitate with his answer.
"No. I think as a professional you want to go out there and give it everything you have, every single time out," he said. "So that's what I wanted to go out there and do. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough."
But when asked if he'd push to get another start since this one was so short, Strasburg was as cryptic as the manager.
"I'm going to focus on my next start," Strasburg said.
This was the second time in two weeks that the Marlins knocked Strasburg around. Miami touched him up for seven runs on nine hits in five innings in a loss on Aug. 28. But the right-hander bounced back to throw six shutout innings in his next start against the Cardinals despite earning a no-decision.
But not much went right in this start. Marlins players said they wanted to get good swings against Strasburg, especially vs. his high-speed fastball.
"He always has good stuff," said Miami shortstop Jose Reyes, who went 1-for-2 and scored a run against Strasburg. "We're trying to be aggressive in the strike zone with the fastball. Just be ready early in the count. Looking for that fastball. If we get it, we try to put a good swing on the ball."
The fastball did appear to be the problem in this game, as Strasburg and others said he didn't have his best command of it.
Strasburg struck out two, but walked three and wasn't overpowering hitters the way he does on nights when everything's going right.
"You can't be perfect every time," Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "He's focused out there, and he's real competitive. It's one of those days that's tough. "
The whole situation involving the shutdown's been difficult as it has generated national publicity, and Strasburg simply wants to keep going. Washington appears headed for the playoffs, and the right-hander wants to be part of it.
But if this proved to be his last start at Nationals Park in 2012, instead of leaving to the roar of his home crowd, Strasburg left quietly after the top of the third.
And now, the situation takes another turn, one which will play out in the next few days. For now, Strasburg said he wants to let it go and just focus on the next start, which might be his last or might not.
To be continued.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less