(All photos Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network)

On Sunday, Stephen Strasburg made his second career start for the Washington Nationals.  The mound at Progressive Field gave the 21-year old pitching prodigy more trouble than the Cleveland Indians batters did.

Strasburg (W, 2-0, 2.19) limited the Indians to two hits--a home run by Travis Hafner on a 100-MPH fastball, and a broken bat single by top prospect Carlos Santana--over 5 1/3 innings.  He struck out eight, giving him 22 Ks in his first 12 1/3 innings pitched. 

He became the sixth pitcher in history to strike out 20 or more batters in his first two major league appearances, and the first in since J.R. Richard did it in 1971, 39 years ago.

Strasburg did have some difficulty on Sunday though, but not necessarily with the Indians hitters.  He had trouble with his fastball location all day, but much of that can be attributed to the problems he had with the pitching mound.

From his very first warm-up throws, he spent much of the afternoon kicking at his landing spot, and you could tell it was really bugging him.  He would often slip or skid as he planted his front foot, and it affected his control, primarily with his fastball, most of the afternoon.

Finally, in the fifth inning catcher Ivan Rodriguez convinced Strasburg to ask home plate umpire Brian O'Nora for assistance form the ground crew.  The attention helped for a bit, but in the sixth, manager Jim Riggleman came out to home plate in defense of his young hurler.

"When it comes to something like that, you could slip one time and roll an ankle and be out for a few weeks," Strasburg said. "The umpires were concerned about it, and they stepped up and got it right."

Three of Strasburg's five walks came in the fifth and sixth innings as the mound deteriorated.

Strasburg would not use the mound as an excuse.  Rather, he was philopsophical about it to reporters after the game.

"Things like that are part of the game," he said. "I wish I could have handled it a little bit better. It kind of got me into a little funk. But it's good to experience this now. If it happens again, I'll make the right adjustment."

Strasburg, otherwise, was dominant again.  He struck out the first two batters he faced, extending a strikeout streak to nine--one short of the major league record--before Santana flied out to deep left field.

In the second inning, he gave up the long homer to Hafner, then got Friday night's hero, Austin Kearns, to fly out to right field before striking out two more to end the inning.  Strasburg got three quick ground ball outs in the third and appeared to be cruising at that point.  But that's when the mound troubles started to get to him.

He struck out Shin-Soo Choo to start the frame, but issued the first walk of career to Santana on a 3-2 pitch the next batter.  Hafner took several close pitches and coaxed another walk out of Strasburg to put two men on, but he then struck out Kearns and Russell Branyan to close out the inning.

In the fifth inning, Strasburg got a ground out and pop out before walking No. 9 hitter Anderson Hernandez.  Leadoff hitter Trevor Crowe tried to bunt past Strasburg, but the big righty fielded the bunt clean and threw to first for the out to retire the side.

The Nats sent eight men to the plate to score four runs in the top of the sixth--which included a pitching change--and that, combined with the mound troubles, did Strasburg in in the sixth.

He got Choo to fly out to center, but Santana muscled a blooper to short right off his broken bat--just the second hit Strasburg allowed on the day.  But he walked Hafner and Kearns on five pitches a piece to load the bases--ending his day.

Riggleman summonded his other 2009 first round pick, Drew Storen, from the bullpen.  The shorter--but no less effective--righty got Branyan to pop out and struck out Jhonny Peralta to escape the jam with no runs scoring.  The outs were big, not only to preserve Strasburg's record, but the Nats led 6-1 at the time and the game was still in doubt.

Washington added three insurance runs in the eighth to secure the victory.

Storen (2-0, 1.54) is getting precious little fanfare that should go along with a first round pick being promoted to the big leagues less than a year after being drafted.  But the reliever is definitely getting his current job done:  getting outs in the middle innings, especially with runners on base. 

He has not let an inherited runner score this season, a perfect 12 stranded out of 12.  In fact, he's allowed just 14 of 48 batters faced to reach, and given up just three runs (two earned) total in 12 appearances.  And he's getting better.  In May, his K/BB rate was 1.25 in 24 batters faced.  So far in June, in the exact same number of batters faced, it's up to 3.00

The offense showed up for a day after being MIA the previous two games of the series.  The Nationals pounded out 16 hits against Cleveland starter David Huff (L, 2-8, 5.82) and a parade of relievers. 

Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond had three hits apiece, while Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina both hit home runs.  Rodriguez, Bernadina and Desmond all had two RBIs each.

Washington has on off day on Monday, and will commence a three-game series with the Detroit Tigers Tuesday night at Comerica Park.  John Lannan (2-3, 5.00) will face Max Scherzer (2-6, 6.30) for the Tigers.

NATS NOTES:  According to Elias Sports Bureau, only one pitcher since 1900 has had more strikeouts before issuing his first career walk than Strasburg, who fanned 19 before walking Santana in the fourth. Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto struck out 22 before his first walk in 2008.

With the win, the Nats records stands at 31-33, six games behind division leading Atlanta.

Washington had 16 hits--seven for extra bases--with three walks.  They struch out seven times and left nine men on base.  They were 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Cleveland rookie catcher Carlos Santana made his major league debut over the weekend.