5. Strasburg is back in Fenway Park: Before tonight's outing in Boston's Fenway Park, Stephen Strasburg's one and only start against the Red Sox took place back in June of 2012, when the then-23-year-old right-hander struck out 13 batters in six innings in a 7-4 win. The two runs the Sox scored on the Washington Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick came in the second inning of that game, when Mike Aviles doubled to drive in two. Strasburg then set eleven straight Red Sox' hitters down before he ran into some trouble in the sixth.
Boston loaded the bases with one down, but Strasburg struck both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kevin Youkilis out to leave'em loaded and complete a 113-pitch outing.
(Photo © Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
"But he was throwing the heck out of the ball. Got a little out of sorts, I thought, there early in the ballgame, but came back and started really going after them.
"I was looking that maybe I was going to have to hold him to five [innings]," Johnson explained, since Strasburg's pitch count was high, but once he sent him back out for the sixth and the Sox loaded the bases, he wasn't about to pull the right-hander.
"There's no way I'm hooking him with the bases loaded," Johnson said. "I don't care what his pitch count was. I was going to have to fight ownership if I let him go too long, but I didn't want to have to fight Stras if I went to take him out."
Nationals' Bench Coach (then and now) Randy Knorr echoed Johnson's sentiments when then-Washington Times' reporter Amanda Comak asked the next day if there was any discussion of lifting Strasburg with the bases loaded the previous night?
"He might have killed all of us," Knorr said.
"Obviously Stras [had] a little rusty start," then-Nats' skipper Davey Johnson deadpanned after the game.
A little less than three years later, Strasburg took the mound tonight in Fenway Park for the second time in his career and gave up back-to-back, one-out singles by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz in the first. A fly ball to right off Hanley Ramirez's bat allowed Pedroia to take third, but both runners were stranded when Pablo Sandoval grounded back to the mound on a first-pitch curve. Scoreless 23-pitch frame.
Red Sox' first baseman Mike Napoli jumped on a 93 mph first-pitch fastball from Strasburg and singled to left, off the Monster, to start the bottom of the second. Two outs later, he moved into scoring position at second base on a ground ball single to center by Brock Holt. Mookie Betts stepped in with two on and two out and lined a 1-2 change to left to drive both runners in and make it a 2-1 game. A grounder to second by Pedroia ended an 18-pitch frame. 41 total.
Strasburg ranked 11th in MLB in swing-and-miss percentage in '14: http://t.co/QKQKu1jCKE So far in this game, 41 pitches, no missed swings.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 14, 2015
Strasburg got his first swing-and-miss strike of the game with a 96 mph 2-2 heater to David Ortiz in the first at bat of the third. Hanley Ramirez sent a grounder through the left side with one down, and Strasburg hit Pablo Sandoval with an 0-2 curve to put two runners on, but Mike Napoli grounded into a force at second for out no.2. Daniel Nava came up with runners on the corners and two out and drove a sharp grounder through the right side. 3-1 Sox. Ryan Hanigan lined an 0-2 fastball to right in the next at bat to drive Napoli in and make it 4-1. Brock Holt K'd swinging over an 0-2 bender to end a 32-pitch frame. 73 total.
With one down in the Red Sox' fourth, Dustin Pedroia jumped on a high 92 mph heater and hit one into the seats above the Green Monster to make it a 5-1 lead. HR no.3 for Pedroia. Hit no.9 for the Sox. Strasburg was up to 84 pitches when he struck Hanley Ramirez out to end a 11-pitch frame.
Given a 7-5 lead to work with, Strasburg came back out for the fifth and retired the Red Sox in order with a 16-pitch frame that ended with Daniel Nava striking out looking at a 94 mph 1-2 heater. 100 pitches even.
Strasburg returned to the hill in Fenway in the bottom of the sixth and gave up a one-out single to right by Brock Holt that ended his outing after 109 pitches...
• Stephen Strasburg's Line: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 5 Ks, 1 HR, 109 P, 73 S, 6/4 GO/FO.
4. Shaky Nationals' Defense: Matt Williams was asked after yesterday's error and gaffe-filled affair with the Red Sox, if there was any concern that focusing too much on the Nationals' defensive struggles early this season would cause his players to press and potentially compound the problem. Williams wasn't having any of that talk.
"No," he said clearly. "These are big league baseball players. They're here because they can catch the baseball. It's not too much emphasis. Any time you go out there against a club like this and you don't catch fly balls and you don't catch ground balls, they are going to kick your fanny. So we've got to do a better job than we did today if we want to win games."
Mike Rizzo, pregame at Fenway: "We’re undermanned and playing poorly. It’s a bad combination." Are you worried? "No. Why? Track record."— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) April 14, 2015
In the second game of three with the Sox in Fenway tonight, the Nationals played a clean game defensively behind Stephen Strasburg. Now about that offense and the run-support?
It picked up a little in the fifth, when Jayson Werth was hit by a pitch, Bryce Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman walked to load the bases for Clint Robinson, whose RBI single to right got the Nationals within three at 5-2. Wilson Ramos grounded out to short with the bases still loaded, bringing Bryce Harper in from third, 5-3, and Ian Desmond hit a two-out scorcher by first to tie the game at 5-5. A HBP on Danny Espinosa ended Masterson's outing.
Ian Desmond made his sixth error of the season on a grounder up the middle by Hanley Ramirez in the seventh.
Blake Treinen then made the second (and third) errors of the game in the seventh, bobbling a bases-loaded swinging bunt by Ryan Hanigan and throwing it by home when he rushed to recover. 7-7 Sox, 8-7 after an RBI groundout by Brock Holt.
• Justin Masterson's Line: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 93 P, 52 S, 7/1 GO/FO.
3. Michael K. Taylor [ed. note - "That's just mean."]: Nats' skipper Matt Williams switched things up a bit with the lineup for this evening's game, moving MIchael Taylor out of the leadoff spot after an 0 for 4, 1 K day in Fenway on Monday left the 24-year-old outfielder 6 for 29 with 11 Ks in 31 PAs so far this season, over which he has a .258 OBP.
The strikeouts were expected to some extent, of course.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Jim Bowden last month about the difficult adjustment ahead for Taylor, who was set to replace the injured Denard Span in center and atop the lineup.
Taylor struck out in 17 of his first 43 plate appearances after he was called up to the majors last season and 29.5% of his PAs at Double-A Harrisburg last season in his breakout campaign in the Nationals' system.
"Michael is a young offensive player in the league," Rizzo said.
"He'll be exposed at times with pitchers that really know how to carve up young hitters, but he's a guy that has explosive talent and a guy that until Denard is ready, it's Michael Taylor time."
Taylor was moved out of the leadoff spot to ninth in the order tonight, with the Nationals playing under AL rules in Fenway Park. Taking Taylor's spot atop the order was Yunel Escobar, who entered play tonight with a .367 OBP early this season and no Ks in 30 PAs.
Escobar singled to left in his first at bat, and one out later took second on a balk when Justin Masterson dropped the ball halfway through his delivery, but he was stranded there when Justin Masterson struck Clint Robinson out to end a 27-pitch opening frame.
Taylor stepped up for the first time in the second, with runners on first and second after a double by Ian Desmond and a Danny Espinosa walk. Desmond was thrown out trying to steal third (inexplicably) on a double steal, but Taylor broke an 0 for 8 streak at the plate when he singled to center to drive Espinosa in and make it 1-0 Nats. Taylor stole his second base of the year with Escobar at the plate, but was stranded.
Desmond and Espinosa hit back-to-back, two-out singles in front of Taylor in the top of the fourth, but the Nats' center fielder K'd swinging to end the frame.
Taylor put the Nats ahead in the fifth, however, with a two-out, two-run triple to the right-center gap off Alexi Ogando that put the Nationals ahead, 7-5. #mwequalsgeenyus?
2. Turning Point(s): Boston center fielder Mookie Betts hit a two-out single to left in the second to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead over the Nationals, but it was the two runs Nats' starter Stephen Strasburg gave up with two down in the Red Sox' fourth that really hurt. Daniel Nava and Ryan Hanigan (on an 0-2 pitch) hit back-to-back, two-out RBI singles off the Nats' starter to make it a 4-1 game after four and the 32-pitch inning pushed Strasburg up to 73 pitches.
The Nats' bats picked Strasburg up in the fifth, however, rallying for four runs on an RBI single by Clint Robinson, an RBI groundout by Wilson Ramos and a two-run single by Ian Desmond. 5-5. Michael Taylor's two-out, two-run triple put the Nationals ahead 7-5. A genuine rally!!
Matt Thornton came on to record the final out of the sixth in a lefty-vs-lefty matchup with David Ortiz, but Matt Williams brought the Nats' only lefty back out for the seventh and things went south quickly. An error by Ian Desmond and a HBP on Shane Victorino put two on with no one out and one out later, a HBP by new pitcher Blake Treinen loaded the bases up. An error on a weak grounder back to the mound and a wild throw by the plate let two runs in and an RBI groundout put the Red Sox ahead, 8-7.
1. The Wrap-Up: Alex Ogando took over on the mound for Justin Masterson with runners on first and second and two out in the fifth, and gave up a two-run triple to right by Michael Taylor that put the Nationals ahead 7-5 after four and a half. Ogando came back out for a quick, 1-2-3 sixth.
Craig Stammen took over for Strasburg with one down in the Red Sox' sixth and got a force at second on a grounder from Mookie Betts. Stammen walked Dustin Pedroia in front of David Ortiz, putting two on, so Matt Williams went to the pen for Matt Thornton and a lefty vs lefty matchup. Ortiz grounded out into the shift to end the threat.
Still 7-5 Nationals.
Edward Mujica retired the Nationals in order in the top of the seventh.
Thornton came back out for the bottom of the seventh. An error by Ian Desmond and a HBP on Shane Victorino put runners on first and second with no one out. Mike Napoli fell behind, 1-2, and sent a fly to right field for the first out of the frame. Ramirez took third on the fly. Allen Craig stepped in against a new pitcher, Blake Treinen, who hit him with the first pitch he threw. Bases loaded, one out. Ryan Hanigan sent a weak grounder back to the mound in the next at bat, and Treinen bobbled it and then threw it by home. Two runs score, 7-7. A groundout to short by Brock Holt brought in the go-ahead run, 8-7 Sox after seven.
Mujica struck Danny Espinosa out for the first out of the eighth. Boston went to the bullpen for right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who gave up a two-out single to left by Yunel Escobar. Escobar took second on a splitter in the dirt with Jayson Werth up, but Werth K'd looking at a full-count slider that fooled everyone, the Sox' catcher (Ryan Hanigan) included. 8-7 Sox after seven and a half.
Treinen came back out for the Red Sox' eighth and worked around a leadoff single for a scoreless frame.
Koji Uehara came on for the save opportunity in the top of the ninth and (after Ryan Zimmerman almost put one out of the park to left field, it was foul) retired the side in order. Ballgame.
Nationals now 2-6