Washington Nationals 3-2 Over Atlanta Braves: Stephen Strasburg Leaves Start After Two Innings With Back Issue

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals took the first game of three they'll play in Turner Field this weekend from the Atlanta Braves by a score of 3-2. The big news, however, was that the Nats' 24-year-old starter Stephen Strasburg was lifted after just two innings on the mound with what the team said was a back issue.

Denard Span tripled to right on a 93 mph 0-1 fastball that never quite got inside for Atlanta's right-handed starter Julio Teheran. Span's Washington Nationals took a 1-0 lead three pitches later when Steve Lombardozzi flew deep enough to right to score the runner from third, but the Braves' 22-year-old pitcher struck the next two batters out to end an 11-pitch first inning tonight in the first game of three between the divisional rivals to be played in Turner Field this weekend.

24-year-old Nats' right-hander Stephen Strasburg gave up a one-out single to center by Ramiro Pena in the Braves' first when the shortstop jumped on a first-pitch fastball, but four pitches later Justin Upton hit a 96 mph 1-2 heater out to second where Danny Espinosa's backhand toss to Ian Desmond started a 4-6-3 inning-ending DP that brought an 11-pitch first for the Nationals' starter to a close.

Roger Bernadina snuck a one-out single through the right side with one down in the top of the second, then went first-to-third™ when Danny Espinosa did the same. Kurt Suzuki busted *ss down the line on a grounder to third in the next at bat and beat out the back end of an attempted 5-4-3, so it was 2-0 Nationals when Bernadina scored from third.

Eight pitches into the Braves' half of the second, Freddie Freeman cut the Nats' lead in half when he crushed a high 97 mph, full-count fastball from Stephen Strasburg and hit a long fly ball to right that ended up 20 rows back in the right field bleacher seats. 2-1 Nationals. Strasburg was a mess of tics on the mound in the second, stretching his neck, rolling his shoulders and gritting his teeth as he appeared to try to get loose, but couldn't seem to. As Nats' skipper Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty watched intently from the dugout, and appeared to make a call to the bullpen, Strasburg struck Dan Uggla out with a 2-2 curve to end a 26-pitch inning at 37 overall after two innings of work.

After a long conversation with Johnson and McCatty in the visitor's dugout, a visibly unhappy Strasburg was apparently told he was not going back out.

Denard Span singled to start the top of the third as the drama played out on the Nationals' bench, but Span was doubled up on a line drive to short when Ramiro Pena leapt to catch a smoked ball off Steve Lombardozzi's bat, landed and fired a throw to first to that beat the runner back to the bag, at least in the eyes of first base umpire Larry Vanover. When the bottom of the third commenced, Stephen Strasburg was replaced on the mound by right-handed long man Craig Stammen as speculation on the internet began as to what was ailing the Nationals' starter*...


[ed. note - " * = During the game, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore provided the following update:

Craig Stammen retired the Braves in order in an 11-pitch 1-2-3 third. Still 2-1 Nationals.

Julio Teheran needed 22 pitches to retire the Nationals in order in the top of the fourth, after which he was up to 60 pitches overall, down 2-1 to the Nats. Stammen threw a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 bottom of the inning, for two scoreless innings in relief on 21 pitches. After Teheran retired the Nationals in order in the fifth, he had set eight batters in a row down after Span's leadoff single in the third. The 11-pitch inning had Teheran at 71 total after five. Craig Stammen retired the Braves in order in another 1-2-3 frame in the home-half of the fifth and was through three scoreless on 36 pitches after taking over on the mound for Stephen Strasburg.

Denard Span tripled for the second time tonight when he lined another fastball to right on the first pitch of the inning from Julian Teheran in the top of the sixth. Another sac fly from Steve Lombardozzi made it a 3-1 Nationals' lead. One-out later, Adam LaRoche walked and went first-to-third™ on an Ian Desmond single to left field. With runners on the corners and two down, however, Roger Bernadina K'd looking at Teheran's 86th pitch. 3-1 Nats after five and a half. Jason Heyward K'd swinging at Craig Stammen's 13th pitch of the sixth, after which he was at 49 overall, having retired 12 straight after taking over for Strasburg in the third. Combined with the last three batters Strasburg faced, that was 15 in a row set down after Freddie Freeman's leadoff home run in the second.

After Teheran and reliever Anthony Varvaro pitched around a one-out single by Kurt Suzuki in the Nationals' seventh, Ramiro Pena reached on an error by Adam LaRoche at first which was later ruled a hit to put the leadoff runner on in the Braves' half of the inning. Ramiro Pena singled off Nationals' right-hander Tyler Clippard to start Atlanta's seventh. Justin Upton battled for seven pitches before he K'd swinging for the first out of the inning, then Freddie Freeman ended an eight-pitch at bat with an RBI single to to right that brought Pena in to make it a 3-2 game in the Nationals' favor. Clippard hit Evan Gattis in the elbow to put another runner on with one down, then hit Brian McCann in the back/back of the right arm to load the bases with one out and Dan Uggla due up. A 93 mph 2-2 fastball got Uggla swinging for out no.2. Chris Johnson fell behind 0-2 and K'd swinging at an 83 mph change. 3-2 Nats after seven in Atlanta.

Steve Lombardozzi singled to start the Nationals' eighth, but Braves' right-hander Anthony Varvaro got a 5-4-3 DP out of Ryan Zimmerman for the first two outs of the inning. Luis Avilan came out to face Adam LaRoche and retired him on two pitches when LaRoche grounded out to second to end the top of the inning. Drew Storen took over on the mound for the Nationals with Jordan Schafer coming on to pinch hit for Atlanta, but an 87 mph 1-2 change got the Braves' outfield swinging for out no.1 of the inning. Ian Desmond charged a high chopper off Jason Heyward's bat and threw the outfielder out at first. Storen issued a one-out walk to Ramiro Pena, but a groundout by Justin Upton ended a 13-pitch inning by the Nats' right-hander. Still 3-2 Nationals.

Cory Gearrin bobbled a one-out grounder toward first and tossed late to Freddie Freeman allowing Roger Bernadina to reach first safely. Bernadina stole second, but two outs later he was stranded as Gearrin completed a scoreless inning in relief. "Pitch it, Soriano! Pitch it, Soriano! Strike him out, Soriano! Strike him out, Soriano!" Rafael Soriano came on in the bottom of the ninth looking for save no. 15 of 2013. Freddie Freeman sent a cutter out to deep right.... but [CHOMP!] Roger Bernadina caught it. ONE! B.J. Upton fouled a pitch off Kurt Suzuki's shoulder that had the Nats' catcher doubled over in pain. But he stayed in the game. Upton K'd swinging at a wicked 0-2 slider for out no.2. TWO!! Brian McCann grounded out to first. Ballgame!

Work's done. Untuck that jersey, son!

Nationals win, 3-2 final.

Nationals now 28-27.

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