Photo: Susan Walsh (AP)

Stephen Strasburg pitched for the Nationals for the first time since June 8 Friday. His return to the rotation after recovering from shoulder inflammation was hailed as a major reason for hope that a gloomy, disappointing Nationals season might turn around in the second half. Then he went out and pitched, and stunk, and got chewed out by Max Scherzer, and this whole thing just blows.

Strasburg was roughed up by the Braves, to the tune of eight hits and six runs on 98 pitches, across just 4.2 innings pitched. The Braves touched Strasburg for a pair of runs before he’d recorded his first two outs, and then chased him with a three-run burst to open the fifth. It was Strasburg’s shortest outing of the season, other than the start on June 8 that was ended by shoulder pain, and the six earned runs are tied for the most he’s allowed in a start since August 2016. Needless to say, this was not the performance anyone was looking for.

Strasburg was greeted in the dugout by a very grim-faced and twitchy Max Scherzer, exactly no one’s idea of a calming influence. Whatever was said between the two escalated quickly into a testy exchange:

Strasburg declined to describe the content of the exchange after the game, calling it “part of a family,” and Scherzer was reportedly nowhere to be found in the post-game clubhouse. An exhausted-looking Davey Martinez, whose grip on this Nationals team seems increasingly uncertain, did some “nothing to see here” hand-waving when asked about it:

The Nationals are now a game under .500 and 6.5 games back of the Phillies in the NL East. Scherzer called a players-only meeting earlier this month, and the Nationals followed that with a dominant series against the awful Marlins. But they’ve since slid back to ho-hum mediocrity, losing a series to the Pirates and dropping two of four to the cratering Mets, and have compiled just a 6-6 record since the meeting. It may not quite be time yet to stick a fork in this team, but you will be forgiven for at least having your fork at the ready.