Game in a nutshell: It was billed as a premier pitching matchup between Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto, but on this afternoon in this ballpark, it turned into another slugfest of sorts. Strasburg gave up three quick runs in the bottom of the first. Cueto followed by giving all three runs back in the top of the second on Kurt Suzuki's blast to left field. Both starters settled down some after that, but Strasburg again got into trouble in the sixth. The real big mistake, though, came from second baseman Danny Espinosa, who bypassed an easy 4-6-3 double play to make a difficult throw at the plate to try to get speedy rookie Derrick Robinson. That throw was slightly off-line, leaving everybody safe and setting up the Reds for a big inning. They wound up scoring three runs before it was finally over, with Strasburg pulled after 114 pitches (second-most in his career). Needing to mount another rally against the Cincinnati bullpen, the Nationals couldn't pull it off. Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman closed out the victory and sent the Nationals to their first series loss of the young season.
Hitting highlight: Who says Wilson Ramos is the only Nationals catcher who poses a power threat at the plate? Suzuki wielded a pretty potent bat today himself. First, he belted a three-run homer to left in the top of the second, tying the game at 3-3. Two innings later, he roped a double to left-center, then he added another off Chapman in the ninth. Not a bad couple of days for Nats catchers. Suzuki and Wilson Ramos combined to go 5-for-8 with three homers, two doubles and six RBI. Guess Davey Johnson will continue that every-other-day plan with these two guys for a while longer.
Pitching lowlight: The final numbers -- six earned runs, nine hits, four walks -- probably look worse than it really was, but Strasburg wasn't on his game by any stretch of the imagination. He struggled to find consistent location with his fastball and curveball and had to rely on his changeup more than he'd usually like to (he threw one to strikeout Joey Votto that might well have been the single greatest pitch of his life). Strasburg did appear to be settling into a groove in the middle innings, but then came decision time for Johnson. With his young starter at 92 pitches through five innings in a tie game, Johnson decided to let Strasburg hit for himself and re-take the mound for the sixth. Strasburg was done in by some infield singles and Espinosa's poor decision to throw to the plate instead of taking an easy double play and wound up getting yanked after retiring only one of five batters faced in the inning.
Key stat: Nationals first basemen (Adam LaRoche, Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore) are a collective 1-for-22 with seven strikeouts this season.
Up next: After a day off at home, the Nationals return to the field Tuesday night for the newest wrinkle in MLB's schedule: Interleague play in April! Yes, the White Sox will be in town for a three-game AL/NL showdown. (Wonder if the well-known Sox fan who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will stop by like he did three years ago?) Gio Gonzalez and Jake Peavy meet in the series opener at 7:05 p.m.