Stephen Strasburg threw seven scoreless, striking out eight, all of them with his curve. Milwaukee right-hander Wily Peralta held the Washington Nationals off the board through 5 1/3 before leaving the game with a hamstring issue, but the Brewers' bullpen picked up where Peralta left off, holding the Nats off the board and handing them their ninth shutout loss of 2013. Strasburg threw 105 pitches before he was done. Drew Storen came on for the eighth and things got ugly quickly.
A leadoff single by Logan Schafer was followed by a walk to Rickie Weeks, after Schafer stole second, and one out later Juan Francisco doubled to right-center for a two-run, two-base hit that provided all the offense the visiting team would need to take the second game of four in the nation's capital.
The Brewers running on Storen at will was particularly frustrating, though. Schafer stole second with Weeks up before scoring. Milwaukee's third run came in on an misplay in left by Bryce Harper, who dropped a fly by backstop Martin Maldonado at the wall in left, allowing Francisco to score. Down 3-0 with the Brewers' catcher at second, Storen let the slow-footed runner take third without a look and when Ryan Zimmerman went to cover third base, Brewers' infielder Jeff Bianchi sent a grounder through the hole and into left to bring in the fourth and final run of the inning with a single. 4-0 Milwaukee.
"He knows they are going to run on him," Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said referring to Storen, "and he needs to speed it up and that probably affected him more than anything. But he's been pitching pretty good and that wasn't one of his better ones." After a rough outing on the road in Colorado, (4 H, 3 ER in 1.0 IP) the right-handed reliever had put together two strong weeks on the mound, giving up just three hits, two walks and one unearned run in his last 7 IP before tonight. The rough outing is one thing. The issues with runners, though...
"[Pitching coach Steve McCatty] goes over in the meetings, you know," Johnson said, "if this guy gets on there going, you've got to speed it up and he didn't do it. He was probably more his slow move, but he's been pitching pretty good, but that wasn't one of them."
As for Strasburg. He rolled through five innings, then pitched around an error and out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the sixth to finish six innings on 87 pitches, then after the injury delay that ended Peralta's night, Strasburg came back out and completed an 18-pitch seventh that left him at 105 pitches when he was done for the night.
"I was a little concerned about him because we had that long delay in the sixth," Davey Johnson said, "I don't know, I think it was about 25 minutes or something, but he went out there, still had good stuff, still pitched, but we just haven't scored him any runs."
"The other guy pitched a pretty good ballgame," Johnson said, with "the other guy" being Peralta (5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R). "I didn't think he was that good. I mean, he had a couple of fastballs. He'd run one away and then kind of toss a straight one, but I didn't think his breaking ball was that good. But we didn't, except for the first inning, didn't get much."
Johnson was asked if Strasburg was the type of pitcher he needed to talk to, to tell him to keep his head up since he's pitched well in spite of the lack of run support, and Johnson said, "No."
"He's a professional," the Nats' skipper told reporters, "He picked us up when we made the error in the fifth. Pitched out of a tough jam there. It could have gotten out of hand right there, but he bowed his neck and pitched great to get us out of the jam. But we'll score him some runs. I think we're coming around. Today wasn't a better one, but..."
Though Strasburg's average Run Support per start (RS via ESPN) is the lowest in the majors after the Nationals were shut out tonight, when Strasburg was asked about the lack of scoring in his outings, he declined to comment. Sort of. "I'm tired of talking about that," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "These guys battle every single day just like I do, and it just didn't work out for us tonight, but I'd like to get over that. I'd like to stop answering questions about run support."
"I think the guys feel good," Johnson said of the hitters who scored 23 runs in the two games before Strasburg's start tonight. With Harper finally back on the field along with Anthony Rendon and maybe even Wilson Ramos this week, the Nationals have their ideal lineup together, but Johnson said things might not click immediately. "It's going to take a little time. Harper hasn't been in there that much. He's a little rusty. We need -- the next two days will be pretty big for us, hoping [Ross Detwiler] comes through all right and he's healthy and then the kid [Taylor] Jordan."
The Nationals play two more with the Brewers. Detwiler starts at 6:05 pm EDT tomorrow and Jordan makes his second MLB start at 11:00 am EDT on the 4th of July, then it's a three-game set with the San Diego Padres this weekend. Winning the series with Milwaukee is the first step though.
• AUDIO: Nats Nightly = District Sports Page + Federal Baseball + FBB's Doghouse tonight: