Stephen Strasburg should be used to it by now. Heading into last night's game, the 25-year-old '09 no.1 overall pick received two runs of support or less in eight of twelve starts against the Washington Nationals' NL East rivals from Atlanta.
The Nats' gave their starter a 2-0 lead early in the game when Adam LaRoche hit a two-run blast off Braves' starter Julio Teheran, but that's all the support he would get while on the mound, making it 9 of 13 career outings with two runs or less of support.
An error by Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth led to two runs scoring, and a 30-pitch fifth inning in which the Braves score four more (three earned), ended his second start of the year and resulted in his first loss of 2014.
"Just didn't execute pitches well enough," he told reporters after the game. "Left some pitches up over the plate and if you hit enough singles in a row, you're going to score a few runs."
Only one of the Braves' eight hits off of Strasburg was an extra-base hit, a two-out double in the third by B.J. Upton, but it didn't cause any damage. The throwing error by Zimmerman in the fourth came on a two-out grounder on what should have been out no.3 of the inning.
Whereas in the past, the error by Zimmerman might have led to him unraveling, both Strasburg and the Nationals' Manager Matt Williams said it was non-factor in the right-hander's struggles on the mound.
"I think just from last year, I want to make a conscious effort of not letting those things bother me," Strasburg said.
"I don't really feel like I got out of my game plan or anything. I really feel like I was going out there giving everything I had and battling and I just left some pitches up."
"He came out throwing his fastball really good," Williams told reporters, "and then he started going to his breaking stuff a lot and they took advantage of a couple breaking balls. But I don't think so. Gave up that hit to Teheran to tie the game, but we were still in the game. His pitch count got was up there though and he struggled through that last inning."
The Teheran single in the fourth drove in the game-tying run, knotting things up at 2-2. Strasburg said the pitch, a 94 mph 1-1 fastball, was one he regretted throwing.
"That's just kind of a stupid decision on my part," he admitted.
"Just knowing him well enough that he can hit a fastball," Strasburg said. "And in that situation you don't want to just think that he's not going to go up there hacking and just look at fastballs right over the middle. Any guy with a bat in his hands is dangerous, so I need to do a better job with that next time."
"You're going to have games like that and you've just got to tip your cap," he said of the Braves singling him to death. "They had some quality ABs and didn't try and do too much."
"That's kind of how baseball is. Sometimes, make that same pitch and they're going to swing through it or foul it off or hit into a double play, but they just kept on hitting line drives."
The Braves' 6-2 win gave them 9 of the last 11 games between the NL East rivals contested in the nation's capital.
Matt Williams was asked afterwards if the second straight loss to the defending NL East champs was significant.
"No, I don't think so," the first-year manager said. "Yesterday's game was a crazy game. Today they really hit with guys in scoring position against one of our best guys. So, they're a good hitting club. Is it a big deal? Well, we lost a couple of games, but in the grand scheme of it, we still have to play the rest of them, so it's not a big deal in that respect."
In addition to the game-tying hit, 23-year-old Braves' starter Julio Teheran shut the Nationals down after LaRoche's first inning home run, surrendering just two singles over the next six scoreless innings on the mound. He finished the night at 111 pitches, having allowed just the three hits and two earned runs while striking out six. The Nationals had their chances, however.
"We had him on the ropes all night," Williams said, "had chances with him all night. He made pitches when he had to. Velocity was up early in the game, then it started to dip a little bit. He used his changeup and his breaking ball more, a little more a two-seam fastball later. But we had some chances."
The Nationals went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. The best chance came in the fifth, after the Braves knocked Strasburg out and took a four-run lead. With runners on first and third, Bryce Harper lined a 2-1 fastball from Teheran to center. Denard Span took off from third when Braves' center fielder B.J. Upton caught the ball, but was thrown out at home when Upton threw a strike to catcher Ryan Doumit for an inning-ending double play.
Strasburg wasn't at his best. The Nationals didn't cash in opportunities. In the end, they dropped the second-straight game to the Braves, who took 13 for 19 games from the Nats last season. Can the Nats avoid a sweep at the hands in the series finale today?