The Washington Nationals made San Francisco Giants' starter Ryan Vogelsong throw 28 pitches in the top of the first inning Thursday night in AT&T Park, with Yunel Escobar launching the first to left for a solo home run. 1-0.
Bryce Harper's one-out walk and two-out walks by Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, loaded the bases, but a Wilson Ramos' groundout to second ended the threat. After the Nationals failed to build on Escobar's leadoff home run, a triple, RBI single to right, walk and RBI single to left from the first four batters in the Giants' first put the home team up 2-1 after one in what ended up a 3-1 win.
Nationals' starter Stephen Strasburg settled in after a 26-pitch first and completed five scoreless frames after the shaky start, but the runs the Giants scored early were all they would need to take the series opener.
"We had a big opportunity there, bases loaded, that could change the game for us," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said of the missed opportunity in the first.
"But, you know, Stephen pitched okay, had a rough first inning himself, but settled down after that as well, just couldn't put anything together."
Vogelsong, in his second start following a month as a reliever, took the mound in the first of three with the Nationals with a (6-7) record in 17 starts, a 4.12 ERA, 4.80 FIP, 38 walks (3.64 BB/9) and 71 Ks (6.80 K/9) in 94 IP as a starter this season, over which opposing hitters had a combined .228/.307/.414 line.
He limited the Nats to two hits in the next four innings, retiring eight straight batters after the Nationals loaded the bases in the first, and stranding two in the fourth after Washington put runners on the corners with one down.
What was different after the first?
"Just found a little bit of command," Williams said, "but threw a lot of fastballs tonight."
Vogelsong threw mostly four-seam fastballs (44 of 93 by Brooks Baseball's count, though MLB has him at 94 total), which averaged 92.2 mph and got up to 94. He threw 24 of them for strikes (54.5%), got seven swings and misses and threw 20 of them for strikes that were not put in play (SNIPs - Strikes Not Put in Play).
Of the four that were put in play, two of them went for hits.
Williams said the fastballs they took were the problem.
"I think, for the most part, we're not even swinging at them," he said of the fastballs. "We need to swing at the fastball. We need to get in a count, it may be the first pitch of the at bat, you never know, so if we get a chance to swing at that fastball we need to do that."
After Vogelsong, hard-throwing right-hander Kevin Strickland (2.0 scoreless, 3 Ks, 18 pitches), Sergio Romo (1.0 IP, 1 H, 2 Ks, 11 P) and Sergio Casilla (S, 1 H, 1 K, 14 P), shut the Nats' offense out. In spite of Strasburg's recovery, he received no more support after the first at bat of the first.
"It wasn't bad," Williams said of Strasburg's outing.
"The leadoff triple and then the base hit and they punched one more, but after that he settled in and he made some nice pitches to get out of that inning too, so I thought he pitched all in all pretty well."
The second-year skipper was asked what he could do to spark the Nationals' offense, which produced just one run in the last 27 innings in back-to-back shutout losses to the LA Dodgers and last night's loss to the Giants.
"We can make some changes, sure," Williams explained.
"We want opportunity for our guys, we had some in the first inning, and that one base hit didn't happen. But nonetheless we have to stay aggressive throughout the game and if we're offered a fastball to hit, we need to take a pass at it."
So what changes will he make?
"You'll know when I make the lineup," Williams said.
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