Storen, slumbering bats undo Strasburg's gem

Storen, slumbering bats undo Strasburg's gem
July 3, 2013, 12:30 am
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Nationals' bats go silent again for Strasburg

In this most political of towns, constant discussion of minimal support for Strasburg sounds more like a struggling candidate running for office than the hardball reality: a dominant pitcher receiving no love in the way of scoreboard changing swings.

For the fourth time this season, Stephen Strasburg allowed zero earned runs in a start for the Washington Nationals, lowering his ERA to a minuscule 2.24. In 13 of his 16 starts, the Nationals right-hander has surrendered two runs or less. There are other gaudy numbers in his favor except that all important win-loss record.

Not that Strasburg was tagged with defeat in the Nationals 4-0 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday. Seeing as he tossed seven scoreless innings while allowing three hits and striking out eight, one would hope not. Considering his luck on the mound this year, it's hard being stunned that he didn't pick up the win either.

“He threw his [butt] off tonight," outfielder Bryce Harper said. "I think when I guy throws like that, he should be able to win."

The Nationals (42-41) didn't win either thanks to a combination of slumbering bats after the lineup rocked and rolled the previous two games and Drew Storen unable to match Strasburg's shutout ways in relief.

Dealing not just with runners on base but base runners on the move, Storen (2-2) allowed four runs on four hits with a walk, all coming during the Brewers' four-run eighth inning. Milwaukee stole a base setting up the first run and kept attacking on the base paths, opening up gaps the run-producing hitters found.

“He got a little upset," Johnson said of Storen. "He knows that they’re going to run on him and he speeded up, and I think that probably affected him more than anything. He’s been pitching pretty good, and that wasn’t one of his better ones.”

This might not have been one of Strasburg's elite outings - he matched his season high with four walks - but certainly crafty enough to receive something more than a second straight no-decision.

In four starts since returning from the disabled list on June 16 following a lower lat strain, Strasburg has surrendered four earned runs and 15 hits over 26 innings. He has one win to show for it in part because the Nationals have scored three runs in that span.

Only one of Milwaukee's three hits against him left the infield. Strasburg's biggest stress came in the sixth as the Brewers loaded the bases with one out. With a runner on first, Ryan Zimmerman fielded Rickie Weeks's potential double play grounder, but the ball slipped out of the third baseman's hand on the attempted throw.

After walking cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez to load the bases and a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty, Strasburg deftly worked out of the jam by striking out Juan Francisco looking and Sean Halton swinging. Both punch outs came on off-speed pitches, as did his other eight strikeouts.

“Honestly, my curveball was terrible in the bullpen," said Strasburg, who remains 4-6 on the season. "I knew I had to throw it out there because they’re a good fastball hitting team, so it’s just how it is sometimes. It’s not really working in the ‘pen, but as soon as you get out there, it just seems to click.”

As for the offense not clicking yet again with him on the mound and shutout for the ninth time, Strasburg threw no stones.

“You know, I’m tired of talking about that," he bluntly stated. "These guys battle every single day, just like I do, and it just didn’t work out for us tonight. But I’d like to get over that. I’d like to stop answering questions about run support.”

Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann received plenty of offensive backing the previous two days as Washington banged out 23 runs on 26 hits. Against Milwaukee, the Nationals picked up three hits against Wily Peralta, who left with one out in the sixth inning because left hamstring strain.

“I didn’t think his breaking ball was that good," Johnson said of Peralta. "But except for the first inning, we didn’t get much.”

Four more hits came over the final two innings, including two opening the ninth against Milwaukee closer Francisco Rodriquez, who promptly struck out the next two batters before Span popped to short.

Perhaps if the game remained a scoreless duel in when the Nationals batted in either of those final frames, there is one more hit or one gaffe by the Brewers. Instead, Washington played catch up.

Storen was wobbly from the start, surrendering a leadoff single to open the eighth, followed by a stolen base and a walk. Then came Juan Francisco's two-run double, then came Martin Maldonado's one-out RBI double on a play Harper later said he "dropped it."

By the time Jeff Bianchi's smacked a run-scoring single through the open left side of the infield with Maldonado attempting to steal third, the boos poured out of the stands.

In June Storen sported a 2.70 ERA in 12 appearances. He'll need a healthy string of scoreless appearances until his July ERA creeps down into that territory after this performance, one he insists did not mentally snowball out of his control.

"I've been in situations worse than that before," Storen said. You're just trying to make good pitches. I left it up in the zone. Obviously, the results snowballed, but in my head it's not snowballing. ...I'm going pitch to pitch. I've been doing it long enough; I've been in different situations. If I'm letting things snowball, I shouldn’t be out there."