|We'll never forget. (C.Nichols/NatsNewsNetwork)|
STRASBURG "STRUGGLES" BUT STRIKES OUT FOUR IN THREE INNINGS
In his first start returning from Tommy John surgery, the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg looked dominant, toying with batters and pitching efficiently, needing just 56 pitches to get through five innings of shutout, two-hit ball. Sunday, before the smallest Major League crowd to see him pitch yet, was a different story as the young right-hander had trouble with both velocity and location, managing just three innings in 57 pitches.
But his teammates picked him up with a big fourth inning rally, including three consecutive home runs. And unlike many days this summer, they continued to hit the entire day, tacking on runs as they went, to defeat the Houston Astros 8-2, before 24,238 at Nats Park.
The bottom line for Strasburg certainly wasn't bad by any means -- one earned run on three hits, with no walks and four strikeouts -- but his velocity was down a bit and he had trouble locating his fastball, especially in a 31-pitch first inning. According to PitchFX, his two-seam fastball, the one that sinks, was where it normally sits as he averaged 94-MPH with it, but the four-seamer averaged just a tick over 95, though by the third inning he had hit 97-MPH with it.
Strasburg threw 11 changeups and just five curveballs and got seven swinging strikes, four on the change.
From the very beginning of the game, Strasburg didn't look quite right. He described to reporters after the game of maybe having too much adrenaline going in the first inning, leading to loss of pinpoint control with his fastball. When he was throwing strikes with it, the Astros did a good job hacking away at it, fouling off ten offerings in the first inning alone.
Strasburg got better as the day went on, retiring his last six hitters in a row and only needing 11 pitches to set down the side in order in the third, after which manager Davey Johnson went for the hook.
"He was irritated. He said, 'Just three?!' And I said, 'Yeah, just three,'" Johnson said. "But I expected that. I like the way he's coming along. I really don't put a lot of stock into the number of pitches. It's more whether he labored in the inning. I think that puts more stress on a pitcher than the number of pitches."
So in his second appearance, Strasburg threw just one more pitch than his first. Johnson likened it to a pitcher's second spring training outing, where maybe a bit of a tired arm can set in. Strasburg will get an extra day of rest this week, not pitching again until Saturday against the Florida Marlins.
As for the rest of the game, the Nats broke out in the third inning, when Ian Desmond, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Zimmerman his consecutive home runs off Astros starter Henry Sosa (L, 2-4). Later in the inning, Danny Espinosa and Chris Marrero hit consecutive doubles to tack on another run.
The Nats added a solo run in the sixth on an RBI single by Zimmerman and two more in the seventh, courtesy of RBI singles from Laynce Nix and Desmond. All told, the Nats pounded out 12 hits and coaxed three walks equalling their most significant offensive outburst of the 10-game homestand.
Tom Gorzelanny (W, 3-6) got the win in relief of Strasburg with three shutout innings, and Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez and Doug Slaten kept the Astros at bey the rest of the afternoon.
The Nationals rebounded on Sunday in a big way from one of their more demoralizing losses Saturday night, taking the series from the woeful Astros in the process. As they head to New York for a four-game series with the Mets, they do so just 3 1/2 games behind the Mets for third place.
Hey, stranger things have happened.
THE GOOD: Ian Desmond went 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs out of the leadoff spot.
THE BAD: Astros starter Henry Sosa. Nine baserunners in 2 2/3, including the back-to-back-to-back homers in the third. Yuck.
THE UGLY: Michael Morse had a rough day, going 0-for-5 with two Ks and stranding two.
THE STATS: 12 hits, 3 BBs, 10 Ks. 4-for-7 w/RISP, 9 LOB, no GIDP. E: Zimmerman (10).
NEXT GAME: Monday at 7:10 pm against the New York Mets at CitiField. Ross Detwiler (2-5, 3.83) faces R.A.Dickey (8-11, 3.47).
NATS NOTES: As the team boarded the buses for the Big Apple, the rookies and other younger players that had not gone through the process were made to dress up for the road trip. Usually this entails French Maid outfits and the like, but Sunday they were painted blue and made to wear white stockings and caps. Yes, the young Nationals were forced to ride the bus to New York dressed as Smurfs.