Stras­burg, Na­tion­als have a day to for­get

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHELSEA JANES

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.

PHOTOS BY JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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.

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