Strasburg’s injury spoils win
For an hour Saturday, things felt perfect for the Washington Nationals. They pounced on the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, one of the most fearsome starters in baseball. Five pitches into the game, Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper had smashed home runs, the latter using a stars-and-stripes-decorated bat to commemorate the Fourth of July. And Stephen Strasburg breezed through the Giants’ lineup — until he couldn’t anymore.
The Nationals still won, 9-3, pushing their record to 45-36 at the midway point of the season. Led by Tyler Moore, Yunel Escobar, Harper and Taylor, the Nationals’ lineup smashed everything the Gi--
offered. But the victory didn’t feel quite right because of Strasburg’s early exit. Strasburg walked off the mound with a trainer with two outs in the fourth inning, the third time this season he has exited a game early with injury.
Nationals Manager Matt Williams described Strasburg’s injury as “tightness in his left side,” which was unfortunate because, during the mound conference that forced Strasburg from the game, both Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos told Williams that the right-hander’s 32/ innings were the best he had looked all season.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Strasburg, who will be evaluated again Sunday. “I’m just gonna look at it that way and try and stay positive and get back out here to help this team as soon as I can.”
In his third start since returning from the disabled list with a neck strain, Strasburg continued his improvements through the first three innings, including pitching out a jam in the third. But the side discomfort surfaced when he faced Buster Posey in the fourth, which ended with a groundout on a 97-mph fastball. After a 96-mph strike to Brandon Belt, Williams, pitching coach Steve McCatty and a trainer met Strasburg on the mound.
“I wanted to at least get through the inning and see if we could do something about it,” Strasburg said. “With how it feels now, I think it was the right move.”
After Strasburg has dealt with ankle, back and neck issues this season, the Nationals didn’t want to tempt fate. Tanner Roark replaced Strasburg and lasted 41/ innings, enough to allow the Nationals’ lineup to keep hitting.
A mere 12 hours after leaving Nationals Park on Friday night, both teams were back at the stadium for an early Fourth of July game. The quick turnaround and start time, 11:20 a.m. thanks for a 20-minute rain delay, meant Bumgarner was taking the mound at 8:20 a.m. on the West Coast. And the Nationals’ approach against him was to swing early and hard.
“Bumgarner is so good, you don’t want to get behind a guy like that,” Harper said.
Bumgarner didn’t help himants self by leaving his pitches up in the strike zone. Taylor swung at a first-pitch fastball over the plate for a leadoff home run, his second to start a game this season and his sixth overall. Bumgarner tried another firstpitch fastball against the next batter, Escobar, and it didn’t work. Escobar smashed the ball to deep center field, missing a home run by a few feet and settling for a double.
Three pitches later, Harper smashed a two-run home run into the Nationals’ bullpen, his 25th blast of the year that gave him a career-high 60 RBI. Harper used an against-MLB-code red-white-and-blue-colored bat that featured an outline of the D.C. monuments, and he had batting gloves with a flag design. Harper initially planned to use the bat for an MLB offseason showcase tournament in Japan but he didn’t attend, so he used it Saturday.
“If I get in trouble swinging it, so be it,” Harper said. “I thought it was pretty cool, pretty patriotic. Definitely being in D.C. and playing for the Nationals, it’s even cooler.”
After Harper’s home run gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead, Ramos singled off Bumgarner, who regrouped and got the inning’s three outs. Left-handed hitters have batted .211 against Bumgarner in his career. Only three left-handed hitters have hit multiple home runs against Bumgarner in their careers: Harper (two), Carlos Gonzalez (five) and Brian McCann (two).
Even after Strasburg left the game and the Nationals turned to Roark, the offense continued to pad the lead. In a two-run sixth inning, the Nationals chased Bumgarner from the game. Making his first career start against a left-handed starter, Clint Robinson went 2 for 3 against Bumgarner. Moore’s fourth-inning double snapped a personal 0-for 11-mark against Bumgarner. His two-run double off Yusmeiro Petit charged two more runs to Bumgarner, who was tagged for six.
An inning later, the Nationals perplexed the Giants more. After a single by Escobar and double by Harper, Giants Manager Bruce Bochy intentionally walked Robinson to load the bases with one out. Danny Espinosa drew a walk to drive in a run. Desmond’s sacrifice fly tacked on another run. Then Moore’s RBI single capped a three-hit, four-RBI day.
The Nationals have won 11 of their past 14 games for the best mark in baseball since June 19. Despite early inconsistencies and injuries, the Nationals are in a good position at the midway point.
“We’ve done a good job despite all the rough moments we had to start the season,” Ramos said. “For the team we have, we should have started better this season. But that happens. I feel like the bad things have passed for this team. It feels like everyone adjusted. We’re all putting it together.”
Michael A. Taylor is congratulated after he hit a leadoff homer in the first inning.
Stephen Strasburg exits in the fourth inning with what the Nationals called “tightness in his left side.”