Stephen Strasburg's tenth start of the season began with a 31-pitch, 16-strike bottom of the first Tuesday night in AT&T Park in which he gave up two hits and two walks but no runs. The one run the San Francisco Giants did score on the Washington Nationals' 24-year-old starter came in a 13-pitch second. Gregor Blanco singled to left to start the inning and scored from second two outs later when Angel Pagan drove him in. The run got the home team within one after Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond had given the visiting Nats a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against Giants' starter Matt Cain.
Strasburg's catcher, Kurt Suzuki, caught Pagan stealing in the next at bat after the Giants' outfielder's RBI single, and the Nationals' starter retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced, including ten straight to end his start after seven innings of work in which he gave up five hits, three walks and the one earned run while recording seven Ks. Strasburg threw 108 pitches overall, 77 over his final six innings of work after the long first, but the lead he handed the Nats' bullpen was blown in the ninth and the Nationals lost the fourth-straight game when Yunkesy Maya gave up a Pablo Sandoval walk-off blast in the bottom of the tenth.
"We didn't get the hits when we needed to," Davey Johnson told reporters after the loss. The Nationals had their chances to add to their lead throughout the game, but after scoring twice early, they failed to add on over the next nine innings in AT&T Park. "When we had the table set and had the right guys up there," the Nats' skipper said, "we just didn't get it done and then we didn't hold them. Stras had a rough start and threw a lot of pitches early, but gave us a good strong seven innings and we were in a position to win that and we didn't win it. It's tough."
Had it not been for the long first, Johnson said afterwards, he might have let Strasburg go deeper into the game than he did. "If he hadn't struggled the first couple of innings," Johnson said, "I think he had over 40 pitches or something after two. I probably would have even gone further with him, but he pitched a great game, set up for our pen and our pen just didn't hold it."
"His velocity was good, his stuff was good, he mixed and matched three plus pitches in the strike zone for the most part," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier on Wednesday morning, "and really kept a hot-hitting, very good lineup in check and certainly gave us a chance to win the ballgame, which is what we expect our starting rotation to do each and every night out there. We just couldn't close the deal out for him, but it was good to see him in command of a ballgame, go deep into a game when we really needed it."
Strasburg threw 29 two-seam fastballs (18 for strikes; 62.07%), 37 four-seam fastballs (23 for strikes; 61.26%), 23 changeups (13 for strikes; 56.52% w/ six swings and misses) and 19 curves (8 for strikes; 42.11%). The changeup was filthy, but the fastball command wasn't there early as both the Nats' GM and Strasburg discussed.
"He was spraying his fastball a little bit," Rizzo said on The Mike Rizzo Show, "and [he] had to battle through some long, leverage pitch type of innings and got through it and really pitched extremely well for us. And like I said, he did exactly what we expected him to do, is give us a chance to win and we were set up to win the ballgame, we just couldn't close the deal out and we lost another tight one."
The Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick did, however, get a feel for his fastball after the early issues. "As the game went on I was able to get command of all my pitches," Strasburg told reporters, "so it was a little tough earlier, but I had to go out there and keep battling." Asked what changed that allowed him to find his command, Strasburg said some if it had to do with warming up in windy San Francisco.
"I just got more comfortable out there," the Nats' right-hander said, "started to feel the baseball a little bit better. It was tough trying to work on getting my command going in the bullpen. There's a ton of wind out there so I couldn't really throw any strikes in the bullpen so it took a little bit of an adjustment when I got out there." Strasburg made the adjustments, pitched his way out of trouble in the first and ended up putting together another strong outing. Good as he was, however, the pitcher's still not quite where he wants to be, though he said he's been able to adjust when he's struggled with his command.
"I think for the most part I've been able to make an adjustment with my fastball," Strasburg said. "Still not quite perfect command or where I want it to be, but I'm missing in better spots and not leaving as many pitches up." For the third straight start, Strasburg kept the ball in the yard and didn't allow any extra base hits, with all five of the hits he surrendered to the Giants singles.
After ten starts, Strasburg's now (2-5) with a 2.66 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 21 walks (2.94 BB/9) and 62 Ks (8.67 K/9) in 64.1 IP.