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The Strasburg enigma

Jul 19, 2014, 12:20 AM EST

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If you wanted to pick one start that seemed to epitomize Stephen Strasburg’s season, this might well have been it.

Strasburg was dominant at times Friday night, striking out nine Brewers while walking only one. Yet he was done in by a couple of home runs and a key, 2-out, 2-run single that ultimately left him taking a 4-2 loss and fielding more questions about what went wrong than what went right.

“Just missed my spot on a couple of pitches,” he said. “Kind of just how the ball drops, you know.”

That’s kind of how the ball has been dropping all season for Strasburg, who remains something of an enigma. In some respects, he has never pitched better: His strikeout rate is up, his walk rate is down, he’s throwing more innings than at any previous time in his career. And in other respects, he has never pitched worse: Opponents are piling up hits off him, especially off his fastball.

The end result is a 7-7 record and 3.55 ERA despite a league-leading 158 strikeouts and only 27 walks over 132 innings.

“For Stephen, I think it’s fastball command,” manager Matt Williams said. “The home runs were fastballs where he didn’t want to throw ’em. With any club, especially a club like this that hits a lot of balls over the fence, you can get in trouble that way. But when he does have fastball command and spots his fastball, then everything else works off of that.”

Strasburg didn’t entirely agree with Williams on that point, citing not so much his fastball command as his diminished fastball velocity.

For the season, Strasburg’s heater is averaging 94.4 mph. That’s down nearly 1 mph from last season and down more than 3 mph from his blow-you-away rookie season in 2010. Perhaps not surprisingly, opponents are hitting .304 against his fastball this year, compared to .244 last year and .216 his rookie year.

“Velocity has been down a little bit, but that’s something that happens,” he said. “I’m not too worried about it. I think it’s starting to pick back up, which is good.”

Strasburg suggested the diminished velocity has been a byproduct of his offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. He’s a full eight months removed from that relatively minor procedure, but he noted that teammate Drew Storen didn’t regain his full velocity after his similar surgery in 2012 until late in the season.

“Just talking to Drew and stuff, kind of with the surgery that he had, it was kind of similar,” he said. “It feels great and everything, but it takes a little bit of time to get it back. Not saying that it’s gonna be triple digits, but I think with the mechanical adjustments I’ve made working with [pitching coach Steve McCatty], it seemed to help me feel a little more comfortable out there, especially early innings where I can just let it go.”

Though the two homers belted off Strasburg on Friday — Scooter Gennett in the first inning, Khris Davis in the second inning — stood out, it was Aramis Ramirez’s 2-out, 2-run single in the third that proved the difference in the game. It came on a 96-mph fastball, up and in, with Ramirez managed to get just enough of the bat on it to bloop the ball into shallow right field in front of a charging Jayson Werth.

“They hit a couple of solo homers, but that’s not the one that got us tonight,” Williams said. “The one that got us, he made a good pitch on Ramirez, and he hit a ball into right field with guys on second and third. If he gets that out, it’s a different game.”

So it was that Strasburg was left to contemplate another outing that felt like less than it could have been. He struck out nine. He walked only one. He threw 70 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

Yet he wound up on the losing end once again in a season that has been hard to explain.

“Maybe I’m throwing too many strikes,” he said. “Maybe I need to be a little more effectively wild.”


  1. David Proctor - Jul 19, 2014 at 12:31 AM

    Strasburg made some bad pitches and those got hit out of the yard, but solo homers don’t beat you and they didn’t tonight either. The brutal blow was the Ramrez one and that was a good pitch that blooped in and probably would’ve been caught by most other RFers. Strasburg wasn’t his absolute best tonight, but the line score does not do him justice. You can say what you want about his mental state, but he was in a jam, he made a good pitch on Ramirez that should’ve been caught but instead fell in and that was the ballgame. This game was far more on the offense than Stasburg. Chance after chance after chance by the wayside.

    • coollikelivo - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:04 AM

      OK, the Werth-bashing has officially come out into the open, including by WaPo (Kilgore) (“a play many right fielders would make.”). But what can be done about it? He’s untradable with 3 years left on his contract, right? LF isn’t really any easier for someone getting creaky legs, right? Can he play 1B? Love the guy’s fire and competitiveness, appreciate that his signing sparked our rise to “legitimacy” in the eyes of other free agents and draftees, but right now I’m not liking what seems to be developing….

      • npb99 - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:50 AM

        It’s the combo of the Werth and RZ contracts that becomes so difficult – two aging guys under contract for several years. Put one of them at first, and who knows with the other – minimum of three years of JW in right field or RZ god-knows-where. With no DH in the NL, Nats can’t afford any more of these contracts.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:55 AM

        Well, making a critical but legitimate observation is not “bashing.”

        Werth’s D is on the decline (posters here have been talking about it since last year) and will decline further – realistically, you know that’s going to happen when you sign a 7 year contract with a guy turning 32.

        LF is an option. So is 1B. It would be nice if the Nats didn’t have another player with a long term contract and declining D they were also considering for those spots. But them’s the breaks.

      • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:32 AM

        +1 to HH. Two aging and imperfect defenders with big bats and big contracts. I think you try Werth in LF and Harper in RF next year, though I agree it’s not ideal. 1B is Zim’s next destination.

    • dgourds - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:17 AM


  2. David Proctor - Jul 19, 2014 at 12:33 AM

    The velocity has been fine lately. Regularly hitting 96, and the last couple games, 97. That wasn’t the case early on and his overall velocity numbers are brought down by it, I think.

  3. NatsLady - Jul 19, 2014 at 12:55 AM

    Stras would have been out of the inning if he hadn’t walked Scooter Gennett (on four pitches). So, why did he?

    He either lost his nerve and pitched around him, or he stratigically pitched around him, because it was not in my eyes a coincidence that he walked the ONE batter who was killing him, the only lefty in their lineup. As soon as he walked Gennett I noted in my scorebook that it was an intentional-unintentional walk.

    If you recall, there was an article in WaPo the other day about “hot” streaks and “hot” hitters, which showed statistical evidence that they are for real. So while I’m not saying Stras was afraid of Gennett, it may be the case that he thought a two-out walk was relatively harmless and that he had a better chance of getting the right-handed batters following Gennett. And if the little blooper had been caught, he would have, and it would have just been, “Stras got into a jam in the third inning and pitched out of it.” This is what you call game management, and I’m not sure I disagree with Stras’ decision. I’m not sure I agree with it either, as Gennett isn’t Stanton (or Barry Bonds), and you can’t go around giving free passes to everyone who hits two homers against you. But he is hot, he is a lefty, and he seems to have Strasburg’s number.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 19, 2014 at 7:29 AM

      I thought pretty much the same thing, as there were already 2 outs and no one on. It was Stras’ only walk of the game, and only took 4 pitches. If you do that, you have to get Braun, and you don’t leave it to Werth to make the play in RF.

      I find it instructive that the Brewers cashed in those 2 runs with 2 outs, while in the previous half inning the Nats had 1st and 3rd, with no outs, and produced an infield pop-up, and a first pitch DP grounder to end the inning. Not only did they not get the guy from 3rd in, they could not even move up the guy on 1st.

      The Nats outhit the Brewers but could not cash in. ALR almost did with with what might have been a 3-run homer to left that fell just short, and Rendon derive one to the warning track in RF but it, too, fell just short.

    • therealjohnc - Jul 19, 2014 at 2:32 PM

      That little blooper pretty much sums up Strasburg’s year so far. Make a great pitch, give up crappy contact, the ball finds an open spot and it kills him, the bats don’t pick him up, and the haterz come out of the woodwork.

      When his BABIP reverts to his career norms everyone will talk about the “adjustments” that Strasburg will have made – which will amount to “not being ridiculously unlucky.”

  4. NatsLady - Jul 19, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    The A’s are unbelievable. I just saw them get three runs in the bottom of the ninth (walk-off homer). Buck Showalter did NOT look happy… And LOL the Mets. They couldn’t hold a 4-0 lead against the Padres, and it’s 4-4 as I turn to that game…. I probably should just get some sleep…

    • secretwasianman - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      Great to see Buck not happy. What a jackass

  5. souldrummer - Jul 19, 2014 at 5:40 AM

    The man’s fastball is straight. Even in his debut start, who was it, Delmon Young who hit one out. This is who he is folks. Even when he gets his velocity back and gets his fastball back, his straight fastball is going to yield some dingers. He’s a good pitcher who had a historic debut and he might figure it all out with greater maturity. But it’s hard to be a superstar or an all start when your heater, which you should throw most of the time, is your most vulnerable pitch. He now has to pitch backward to be at his most effective. Interesting to see how he continues to try to figure things out.

    • dgourds - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:24 AM

      Interesting take Souldrummer. His change is definitely his best pitch. It has great movement. Pitching backward isn’t the worst thing as long as you can command your pitches. I do believe he will figure it out and become a true ace. As David said earlier though, he really didn’t pitch badly. Just not an ace performance. The loss is more on our offense.

  6. rabbit433 - Jul 19, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    That could be the story of his career……..missing his spots. Trade him to the Braves so he can miss his spots against the Nats!!!

  7. karlkolchak - Jul 19, 2014 at 6:33 AM

    Strasburg will always be cursed by those “once in a decade talent” proclamations back before he was drafted. Had he been just another prospect like Jordan Zimmmermann was, we would all be thrilled at how successful he has been rather than disappointed that he isn’t Clayton Kershaw.

  8. Candide - Jul 19, 2014 at 7:40 AM

    Seems every time I looked at the scoreboard last night, it showed Stras hitting 96, 97. So what’s this “diminished fastball velocity?”

  9. rayvil01 - Jul 19, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    Off Topic: Did anyone hear what that last question to Matt Williams at the post-game presser. It wasn’t clear. After replaying it a few times it sounded like, “You got a lot of guys on base, why didn’t you score more runs?” MW was tight. He paused for five or more seconds before saying, “That’s baseball, Dude.” His jaws were locked. Just curious.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:03 AM

      If I were Matt, I wouldn’t be too happy about it, either. ALR and Rendon almost turned that game around, both coming within a few feet of hitting it out. If La Roche’s shot to LF ends up being a 3-run homer instead of the 3rd out, ending that inning, this thread would be a lot different today. That’s baseball.

      • rayvil01 - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:26 AM

        La Roche’s ball carried. I thought it was a routine out but it carried to the Warning Track. Rendon’s I thought was gone and it died. One of those nights.

        The thing that drives one nuts is that they often do the one thing you can’t do in a given situation. Man on first and third no out. A double-play scores a run. What you can’t do is pop-out or strike out. Pop up, first-pitch double play, nada squadoosh. Makes my head hurt. I’d have rather they would have tried to squeeze him in than that.

    • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:08 AM

      You heard it exactly right. Sounded like a question in the gamepost from MNF. What’s he supposed to say to that? “My guys stink”?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      Thank you for repeating the question. I heard the answer but had no idea of what was asked or by whom. DUDE! Wow. I just didn’t know what he was answering. That’s a real NY media question. I wonder who asked it and if credentials will get pulled.

      The approach at the plate by my boy Ramos was disappointing. Even though Desi struck out, at least he was working on a ball to drive.

      Lohse is a craftsman. He wiggled out of trouble like few can. Credit to him because he gets paid a lot to do what he did. Hes not an Ace anymore but quite effective with a near 3.00 ERA. Brewers were smart to have signed him. Some thought he had nothing left beyond a 1 year deal. Wrong.

      • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:38 AM

        To be fair Ghost, the questioner sounded like English was his second language. Our slicker beat writers would have asked, “You got a lot of hits tonight, so it’s not like Lohse wasn’t hittable. Any thoughts on how the team can improve its hitting with guys in scoring position. Is it a matter of concentration, of approach?”

        Do you know of any case where the Nats have pulled the credentials of a reporter who asked a dumb question? That seems like an extreme punishment. Debi Taylor lasted many years here.

        Also, credit to you for not reminding us for the umpteenth time that you wanted to sign Lohse after 2012.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:51 AM

        Good questioning 2’s!

        The going joke in the Majors is never ask a tough question in Baltimore. They pulled WNSTs access and have cold shouldered many of the Sun writers over the years. Limiting access and other tactics happen all over but Baltimore is a joke. The MASN channel and the Machado apology was so scripted it must’ve taken them hours to get it right. Angelos uses MASN like Lenin used Pravda.

        Only in NY, everything is open season except a players personal life. The coddling that goes on in other cities is a joke. Ask the question with respect and if it’s legitimate and fair. Don’t ask it like a TMZ reporter.

        I couldn’t hear a thing with the questioning. I wonder who it was. Dude!

      • 6ID20 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:05 AM

        They haven’t pulled Kilgore’s credential for not being able to ask an intelligible question. Why would they pull this guy’s? It’s a valid question, just not well presented.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:15 AM

        LMAO. Kilgore at the Allstar game fumbled his one question in an epic way to Matheny. If someone recorded it, please Post.

      • rayvil01 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:39 AM

        Ghost, are you saying Buck is thin-skinned? Can’t imagine. (Sarcasm font)

  10. laddieblahblah - Jul 19, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    To me the story of the game are Bryce’s new, simplified swing mechanics. I always knew he would have to simplify that old swing. It had so many moving parts it looked like it had been devised by Rube Goldberg. Only someone with Harper’s superior athletic ability could make contact with a baseball moving at 90+ MPH after moving his hands up and then back down, striding forward with a big leg kick, thereby moving his head up to 1 1/2 feet forward, landing that lead leg while simultaneously opening up his shoulders to pull the ball to RF.

    That swing, when all the moving parts are synchronized, perfectly (no easy feat), is designed to produce max power at the point of impact, which pretty much has to be to the inside of the strike zone. So they all pitch him soft stuff to the outside part of the plate, and even off plate. Many umpires, for whatever reason, have been helping those pitchers by widening the strike zone for Harper, to the outside.

    That swing must have worked against less skilled pitchers, but it is much more difficult against major leaguers who are being aided and abetted by so umpires. When Harp connects with that swing he can drive a ball 450′ to the upper deck in right, and has managed to do that on several occasions, already, in his brief career.

    But he only needs to make solid contact to drive the ball 400′, which is good enough. That simplified swing cuts out most of the movement in his swing, and he stayed square to the pitcher’s mound last night, instead of pulling off to his right. If he sticks with that approach, he will put up numbers that will make him a baseball icon, not just a media icon.

    He went 3 for 4, including that homer. His only out came, of course, with RISP. He popped up.

    It looks as if harper is taking his lead from Werth’s new, upright swing. But in Harper’s case, there are many more adjustments included. In swinging a bat, simple is good, complicated is bad. If Bryce keeps it simple, he is going to live up to all that hype, and then some.

    I’m glad he made the change while he is still only 21. I was afraid he might stick to the Rube Goldberg approach for years. I think this will work for him so well that he will never go back.

    Alright, let’s take 2 of 3.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:00 AM

      What is it with this spell correct thing that makes it drop words that it can’t decipher?

      “even off plate” = “even off the plate.”

      “so umpires” = “so many umpires.”

    • rayvil01 - Jul 19, 2014 at 8:21 AM

      New stance does look good. Good adjustment.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        That’s what they tried to do with Espinosa. I think it drains some power but Bryce is so strong he can pull them and yank them out but contact is the key.

        I will repeat what I said about LaRoche back on the July 4th weekend. He doesnt look right. He looked much better yesterday but I’ve seen this show before.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:58 AM

        Agreed about LaRoche. Seems like all he has right now is warning track power. How many times has he hit long flyball outs in the last weeks?

    • chaz11963 - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      Excellent analysis laddie. We were saying the same thing watching at the game last night.

  11. scnatsfan - Jul 19, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    Over the last two years SS is below .500. Below. Some gets blamed on poor run support sure, but he has to man up and beat the guy he is going against. Other SP are doing it against him.

    • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      Below .500? In win percentage? That’s your measure of whether he’s doing well? Lots of things to criticize or be be concerned about with respect to Stras. That’s not one of them.

      • 6ID20 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:10 AM

        It takes more than flashy personal stats to crown a pitcher as good or merely adequate. The W-L record is a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

      • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 12:57 PM

        No it’s not. See Hernandez, Felix the year he won the Cy Young. Or Lee, Cliff last year. The examples are legion. Wins are way too dependent on the performance of other players on your team.

      • scnatsfan - Jul 19, 2014 at 1:02 PM

        My point is when he is your ace he has to win; he has to pitch better then the guy he is facing. Obviously he can’t win if the team doesn’t score but he doesn’t have to keep putting his team in a hole.

      • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 1:07 PM

        He doesn’t have to win. He can’t control that. He has to pitch well. Or even pitch great. (You can’t expect even an ace to pitch perfect.) He didn’t do that last night, although I still think he was burned by a gimpy right fielder.

        Whether a pitcher got the one is one of the worst ways to evaluate how well a pitcher performed in a game. A well known case in point — Clipp’s win in the All Star Game a few years back or any vultured win by a closer who blows a save. For starters it depends not on how well he pitched by how well his team happened to hit that night. I’m with Brian Kenny. Kill the win!

  12. secretwasianman - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Constantly hammering on the pitchers is like hammering on the QB in football. Look at the big picture. The team can only hit bad pitching. Only 2 or 3’guys seem to deliver in big spots. Ramos not being one of them. This guy is way overrated. I miss Kurt Suzuki. Everybody stop listening to FP and how good this lineup is. It’s not.

  13. secretwasianman - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Two guys on and no outs. Ramos goes hacking at the first pitch low and away. Dbl play because he can’t run. I’m tired of Our so closed power hitters have no power.

  14. stoatva - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    Highly recommended reading: Tim Wendel’s “High Heat” which is about the select group of men who’ve been given the gift of hurling a baseball at speeds approaching or exceeding 100 mph, and their struggles to live up to their gift. And they all struggle with it, every one. Most never master it. Offers good perspective.

  15. Doc - Jul 19, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    8-10 runners left of base, Span’s goofy base-running mistake on a ground ball hit in front of him, which helped to destroy a rally, bloop single that a faster RFer might have caught—–all probably more important to the loss than SS’s FB.

    The runners weren’t coming across the plate, but Nats were hitting Lohse like it was batting practice.

  16. Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    “A charging Werth” is being very charitable. Certainly not what I saw. ‘A timid and slow Werth” would be more like it. Maybe he’s just not capable any more, but that was a situation where an all out effort was needed. No reason to play it safe because the ball was blooped, not scalded. If it gets by him, it’s a double. Big deal. Two runners were flying toward home at the crack of the bat because there were two outs. He needed to make a big effort there and he didn’t.

    • NatsLady - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      This is worrying to me, because he just got off the All-Star Break and shouldn’t be that fatigued.I hope he can summon more energy in the field, but not so much as to get hurt…

      • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:39 AM

        Agree NL. It was a lackluster effort from the guy who knows how to turn it on in a big situation.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        i am seriously thinking that Jayson is afraid of hurting his wrist again. He didn’t get a great jump, but it sure appeared to me that he had plenty of time to come in and get that ball.He’s been pulling up short on those type of balls coming his way for the past year. He’s one of my favorite players, has always been a savvy right fielder, and it pains me to watch him moving so tentatively now. It’s time for him to move to left, but Bryce still doesn’t know how to play RF enough to excel at it. Management is going to have to deal with some tough decisions, and soon. Unfortunately, I think Span will ultimately be the odd man out.Speaking of Denard, he had a really nice catch at the deepest part of the wall last night. He made it look much more routine than it was.

      • Section 222 - Jul 20, 2014 at 12:15 AM

        +1 JoeS. Werth’s defensive shortcomings rarely cost us a ballgame. They did last night.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      2’s, I was just commenting yesterday on the BABIP that Nats range is improved this year and except RF. I didn’t mention him by name but lets face it, we all know. LaRoche has improved and so has RZim and Werth plays like he has rocks in his pockets.

  17. stoatva - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    The folks who criticize Stras’ mental toughness are certain to ignore or forget the four shutout innings he finished with, giving his team chances to get back in the game which, unfortunately, they didn’t take advantage of.

    At 25 Strasburg is no longer a phenom, but he’s still a young pitcher who’s had to learn his craft at the highest level, where even the likes of Koufax and Ryan get punished.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      They don’t have a realistic expectation. Stras is off his game from last year and inconsistent. I’m not happy about it but if Werth makes that catch in RF, 2-0 game.

      Call it poor defense, unlucky BABIP or poor positioning. What about RZim and the liner over his glove to set that up. Same thing.

      The Nats didn’t make their own luck last night. O-fers by ALR and Rendon.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      They don’t have a realistic expectation. Stras is off his game from last year and inconsistent. I’m not happy about it but if Werth makes that catch in RF, 2-0 game.

      Call it poor defense, unlucky BABIP or poor positioning. What about RZim and the liner over his glove to set that up. Same thing.

      The Nats didn’t make their own luck last night. O-fers by ALR and Rendon.

      • micksback1 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:05 AM

        no problem with Stras, offense was pathetic

    • 6ID20 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      So what you’re saying is that he pitched to the score. Future HoF pitchers need to do better than that. Ask Jack Morris.

  18. breakbad1 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    I am really tired of the Strasburg over-analysis, here and in the Post.

    Check the paper this morning and see how many teams won while scoring only two runs. (None.) Seven teams scored two or fewer runs; all lost.

    The articles here and in the Post make it look like some kind of disaster that Stras gave up FOUR runs. Last night the Boston Red Sox committed that same historic and fatal error–they gave up four runs in a baseball game. And you know what else they did? — They scored FIVE. And then what happened? — They won the baseball game. (I know it seems impossible, reading this kind of thing, but you can look it up–page D4 of today’s Post.)

    If Stras had given up only 3 runs, we still would have lost.

    And if he had given up only 2 runs, we probably would’ve lost too, knowing our performance in extras this year.

    Strasburg is fine. WE NEED MORE RUNS.

    • NatsLady - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:16 AM

      A’s did the same. Gave up four runs and scored five. They scored the last three against the O’s closer.

    • Section 222 - Jul 19, 2014 at 1:00 PM

      Great post. More runs, and better defense would have won that game for us.

      The best thing about the post — that you gave us the page of the dead tree version of the Post to cite check your information. Awesome.

  19. micksback1 - Jul 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    I was at game last night, been to 3 of last 4 Nats games live. 2nd inning was special and DC fans showed class and compassion, glad I was a part of it.

    Weird game overall, Stras look very good to me overall. Team can not put hits together. ALR is really not seeing the ball, his timing is bad because this is when you have to step it up. Glad to have seem Bryce hit well.





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