Stras­burg’s in­jury spoils win

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - NA­TION­ALS 9, GIANTS 3 BY JAMES WAG­NER

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.”

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