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Stephen Strasburg gives Nationals’ bullpen a break with eight strong vs the Cubs in 5-2 win

Stephen Strasburg probably could have gone the distance, but the Nationals went to the pen in the ninth after getting eight strong from their starter last night...

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After back-to-back 6-0 losses in his outings on Washington’s 3-7 road trip through Philly, Milwaukee, and LA, Stephen Strasburg told reporters that he still thought the Nationals, who returned to the nation’s capital 16-24 overall, could turn things around after a rough start to the 2019 campaign.

“I don’t see why not,” Strasburg said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr. “We have all the pieces here, and it’s just about weathering the storm and just holding the helm, per se.”

After two wins and two losses on the current homestand, Strasburg, who was (3-3) after nine starts, with a 3.63 ERA, a 2.75 FIP, 16 walks (2.53 BB/9), 75 Ks (11.84 K/9), and a .211/.269/.344 line against in 57 IP, took on the Chicago Cubs in the second game of three with the Cubbies in D.C., and retired the first nine batters he faced as the Nats jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

Strasburg and his catcher, Yan Gomes, ran into trouble in the fifth, however, when they got crossed up with runners on first and second after one and two-out singles in the top of the inning, with the first passed ball/cross-up moving both runners into scoring position, and the second allowing the Cubs’ first run of the game to score before the Nationals got out No. 3 at home plate when Addison Russel tried to score from second as the Nats recovered the ball.

David Bote hit a first-pitch fastball out to left in the first at bat of the sixth, 5-2 Nationals, but Strasburg retired the next three batters in order to finish up six innings on just 68 pitches.

A 13-pitch seventh left him at 81 pitches total with six straight set down after the home run, and he was up to nine in a row set down after a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth.

Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 8.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 93 P, 69 S, 12/2 GO/FO.

That was it for Strasburg, who turned the game over to closer Sean Doolittle, who, in spite of a little controversy, and an official protest by Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon over the toe tap in Doolittle’s delivery, locked down the win.

Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked after the game about lifting Strasburg when he did, with the right-hander up to just 93 pitches.

“He went three starts in a row over 100 pitches,” Martinez explained. “We have to make sure we take care of these guys. Like I said, longevity, that’s the perfect spot for Doolittle.”

Did Strasburg put up a fight?

“He was really good with it,” Martinez said.

“I mean, hey, it was hot. As everybody knows, Stephen sweats a lot. He gave us everything he had today and he was awesome. We want to keep him fresh, and he’ll be ready for his next start.”

“We got a great closer, so didn’t want to hold that from him,” Strasburg told reporters, as quoted by’s Jamal Collier.

“I think it’s important that you focus on the now, and you focus on that one pitch that you got to make. You go as long as you can until Davey takes the ball out of my hand.”

After giving up 10 runs in in 10 innings in his third and fourth starts of the season back in April, Strasburg has been on a run, with a 2.13 ERA, nine walks, 54 Ks, and a .179/.231/.241 line against over his last six starts and 42 13 IP.

What’s been working for him over the stretch of successful outings?

“Working in and out, working in and out, using all his pitches effectively, but really his location has been really, really good,” Martinez said.

“When he’s on, you can tell that he uses both fastballs, two-seamer, four-seamer, and today it was curveball, changeups, he used all his pitches, but he gets ahead of hitters and when he does that and gets ahead, he’s tough.”

And the cross-ups between Strasburg and Gomes in the fifth?

“One was I guess Stephen and one was Gomes,” Martinez said. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt.”