Before tonight, Stephen Strasburg hadn't started against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the nation's capital since his MLB debut on June 8, 2010 when the then-21-year-old right-hander struck out 14 in 7 IP in which he gave up just four hits and two earned runs. Nationals Park was filled with 40,315 that night. In the first five games of the current 11-game homestand, an average of 35,579 fans have turned out to see the Nats lose three to the Los Angeles Dodgers and two of the first four games they're playing with the visiting Pirates. Strasburg took the mound tonight trying to stop the Nationals' five-game losing streak.
In three career starts and 20 IP against Pittsburgh, including one start in PNC Park earlier this season, Strasburg was (2-0) with a 3.15 ERA, three home runs (1.35 HR/9) and four walks (1.80 BB/9) allowed and 35 Ks (15.75 K/9) collected from Pirates' hitters before tonight's outing.
If Strasburg and the Nationals wanted to avoid losing the second straight series after the All-Star Break, they needed their '09 no.1 overall pick to shut the Pirates down. The Nats' hitters haven't supported the now-25-year-old right-hander's efforts this season, however. Coming into the start vs the Pirates, Strasburg had the lowest average runs scored per start (2.89 RS) in the National League and the second-lowest run support amongst qualified major league starters overall, behind only the Chicago White Sox' Chris Sale (2.78 RS) so far this season.
As the Nats' pregame notes mentioned though, "In 29 career starts when provided with 3 or more runs of offensive support while in the game, [Strasburg] is 21-2 with a 3.02 ERA (56 ER/167.0 IP)." Would the Nationals' batters support their starter?
Strasburg received no support tonight when he was on the mound...
The Pirates went down in order in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 top of the first which ended with Andrew McCutchen flying out to Jayson Werth in right field. Werth was swinging 3-0 and fouled one off in his own two-out at bat in the bottom of the inning, and the Nats' right fielder popped up over the infield on the 3-1 pitch that followed to end an 18-pitch opening frame by Francisco Liriano that started with a four-pitch leadoff walk to Scott Hairston. 0-0 after one.
Stephen Strasburg fell behind Pirates' third baseman Pedro Alvarez and gave up a line drive home run to right on a 96 mph 2-1 heater that just cleared the far left edge of the out-of-town scoreboard in right to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh in the top of the second. Travis Snider took a 1-2 change through the right side of the infield for a one-out single off the Nationals' starter, but another 1-2 change had Pirates' catcher Michael McKenry way out in front for a swinging strike three and the second out of a 27-pitch inning that ended with Clint Barmes' groundout to third. 38 total for Strasburg after two. Francisco Liriano's second was a relatively quick 16-pitch, 1-2-3 inning that ended with Denard Span's swinging K.
Strasburg dropped a backdoor 1-2 curve on the opposing pitcher for out no.1 of the third and the Nats' right-hander's third K. A 98 mph 2-2 heater knee-high outside got Starling Marte swinging for out no.2 and K no.4 and a 96 mph 1-1 heater to Neil Walker got the Pirates' second baseman to ground out to first to end a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 inning for Strasburg. 50 pitches overall after three. After a 14-pitch, 1-2-3 third, Francisco Liriano had retired nine-straight after Scott Hairston's leadoff walk in the first.
Andrew McCutchen grounded out to third to start the fourth, leaving the Pirates' outfielder who kills Nationals' pitching 0 for 2 tonight and 1 for 9 career vs Stephen Strasburg. Pedro Alvarez battled for seven pitches before striking out looking at a 2-2 curve that broke in over his right shoulder for a called strike three by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook. Garrett Jones went down swinging at a 98 mph 2-2 fastball to end a 14-pitch fourth after which Strasburg was up to 64 pitches, but still down 1-0 to the Pirates. 22-pitches later the Nationals were hitless through four innings after Francisco Rodriguez pitched around a two-out walk to Jayson Werth for his fourth scoreless frame of the night.
Travis Snider flew to left. Michael McKenry flew out to center. Stephen Strasburg had two quick outs on eight pitches, and would have been through a 10-pitch frame if Anthony Rendon hadn't committed an error on a backhand attempt on a Clint Barmes grounder to short that got under the Nats' rookie infielder's glove. Strasburg had to throw five more pitches to strike Liriano out on his 15th pitch of the inning. 79 overall after five.
WIlson Ramos lined out to right on the Pirates' starter's 71st pitch of the night. Denard Span's groundout to third left the Nats hitless through 4 2/3. Steve Lombardozzi's line drive to center fielder Andrew McCutchen had Francisco Liriano through five hitless on 75 pitches. Still 1-0 Pittsburgh.
Stephen Strasburg shattered Starling Marte's bat with a 96 mph 2-1 fastball and got a line drive right to Anthony Rendon at short. An 0-2 fastball to Neil Walker got a weak groundout to second for out no.2 in the sixth. Andrew McCutchen was dumfounded when a 2-2 change inside was called strike three by Mike Estabrook to end a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 top of the sixth that had Strasburg up to 91 overall with 8 Ks in six innings pitched. Francisco Liriano lost his no-hit bid with two down in the Nationals' sixth when Anthony Rendon reached on a two-out infield single Pedro Alvarez fielded but lost on the transfer, but after a two-out walk by Ryan Zimmermann, Jayson Werth took a called strike three to strand two at the end of a 16-pitch sixth by the Pirates' starter.
Travis Snyder K'd swinging through an 82 mph full-count curve to end a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh with Stephen Strasburg's ninth K in 7.0 IP. The Nats' right-hander was at 104 pitches total after seven, having set 17 of 18 down with the only runner reaching after Travis Snider's one-out single in the second doing so on Anthony Rendon's fielding error in the fifth. Francisco Liriano needed just seven pitches to retire the Nationals in order in a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh. Still 1-0 Pirates.
Michael McKenry K'd swinging through a 97 mph 2-2 heater. Clint Barmes took a 97 mph 1-2 fastball for a called strike three and Stephen Strasburg's 11th K. Francisco Liriano had no chance when the Nats' starter dropped an 0-2 change on the opposing pitcher for a swinging strike three and K no.12. The 14-pitch eighth had Strasburg up to 118 pitches total in 8.0 IP.
• Stephen Strasburg's line: 8.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 12 Ks, 118 P, 80 S, 7/3 GO/FO.
Steve Lombardozzi singled to start the Nationals' eighth, taking a first-pitch change to center for the Nationals' second hit of the night. Kurt Suzuki bunted the runner over to second, but Scott Hairston K'd looking at a 3-2 slider that the Nats' outfielder thought was outside. Francisco Liriano exited the game there with the tying run still on second. Left-hander Justin Wilson took over against Anthony Rendon and popped him up foul of first to end the eighth. Still 1-0 Pirates.
Drew Storen took over for the Nats in the ninth. Starling Marte battled for nine pitches before singling to center. Marte was running when Neil Walker doubled in the next at bat and he scored to make it 2-0 Pirates in the top of the ninth. Storen walked Pedro Alvarez with one down to get to Gaby Sanchez, who K'd swinging at a full-count slider. Nats' Fernando Abad came on in relief with two on and two out, so Pirates' skipper Clint Hurdle turned to Jose Tabata. A HBP on the outfielder loaded the bases with two down and a two-run single to left by Michael McKenry made it a 4-0 game.
Ryan Zimmerman started the ninth with a single to right off Justin Wilson and Jayson Werth took the Pirates' reliever deep to right and over the out-of-town scoreboard for a two-run blast that made it a 4-2 game. Mark Melancon got Adam LaRoche swinging for the first of the ninth, but Wilson Ramos singled to center with one down. Denard Span stepped in as the tying run but grounded into a phantom-tag 4-3 game-ending double play. 4-2 Pirates.
Nationals now 48-53