Strasburg, Nationals have a day to forget
Throughout the first half of the Washington Nationals’ season, you could count on them to do two important things: score plenty of runs and have their starters pitch deep into games.
Aside from the occasional and inevitable outlier, the Nationals built their first half on the relative consistency of their rotation and lineup. The former could be relied upon to keep them close. The latter could be counted on to pummel opposing pitching staffs into submission.
On Saturday, their starting pitching floundered and their offense did the same in a 13-0 loss to the Braves that was their second-most lopsided defeat of the season. The Nationals still hold an 81/2-game lead over Atlanta in the National League East. Stephen Strasburg’s shortest start of the season — and the offense’s unprecedented futility — should not be cause for concern but rather a reminder of just how good this team usually has it.
“I guess it just wasn’t our day,” said Nationals Manager Dusty Baker, whose team was shut out
for the first time, making it the last team in the National League to succumb to that fate.
Strasburg, an all-star and one of the constants around which this rotation is built, was struggling even before he took a line drive off his hip. His start ended a few batters later after three innings and six Braves runs.
By most statistical standards, the Nationals have had one of the best rotations in baseball in the season’s first half. From ERA to strikeout rate, their starters rank in the top five in nearly every category and are the quiet motor for this flashy roster yet again.
Strasburg made his final start of the first half Saturday, and in the second inning, he ran into the kind of trouble that should highlight how difficult statistics like those can be for a rotation to maintain. So much, of course, is out of a starter’s control. In that inning, Strasburg was a victim of circumstances he could not control.
Nick Markakis started the trouble with what was generously scored a one-out double but really amounted to a weak bloop to left that bounced around left fielder Adam Lind. A few seeingeye singles and a just-missed double play later and Strasburg had allowed two runs and seen his pitch count climb to 40 — without giving up any solid contact.
“Other than [Freddie] Freeman and Markakis, they really weren’t squaring the ball up,” said Strasburg, who did give up six hits with exit velocities of 95 mph or more, most of them in the next inning. “I just got singled to death.”
The hard hits came in the third, when Freeman doubled and Markakis hit a 95-mph line drive off Strasburg’s right hip. Strasburg chased down the ball and tried to hurry it to second but threw it away, an error that did not improve his circumstances.
Strasburg threw a few warmup pitches to test the pain after that and stayed in to finish the inning. But by the end of the third, he allowed six runs and seven hits, two of them to his Braves counterpart, Julio Teheran. Strasburg walked slowly off the mound after that third inning and never came back, a strange end to the first half of his season, which he finished with a 3.43 ERA.
Baker said he took Strasburg out because “he was hurting.” Strasburg said he felt fine after the game and thought he could have continued.
“I’m going to keep going until they take the ball out of my hands,” Strasburg said. “And that’s when they decided to take it out of my hands.”
Tanner Roark, who was skipped in the rotation last week, relieved and threw five innings in which he allowed three more runs before giving way to Sammy Solis for the ninth. Solis allowed four runs and has now allowed seven in three innings since returning from the disabled list a week ago.
Meanwhile, the Nationals’ of- fense offered nothing. Theirs was the most potent lineup in the National League by on-base-plus-slugging percentage entering Saturday, one of the most talkedabout keys to their first-half success. But after falling behind early, the Nationals could not push across a single run despite having eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“I hate to be shut out, but it’s our first shutout of the year,” Baker said. “. . . Hopefully we go another 80 something games without getting shut out.”
The Nationals scored at least one run in each of their first 86 games, the longest streak to start a season in franchise history. The Nationals put nine men on but drove none of them home, less cause for concern than a reminder of just how impressive it was that they were able to do so in almost every game before the break.
Stephen Strasburg fields the ball after getting hit in the hip by a line drive off Nick Markakis’s bat.
Catcher Jose Lobaton and pitching coach Mike Maddux check on Strasburg, who allowed six runs — three earned — in three innings.