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Strasburg, Nats not so hot against Padres

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Strasburg, Nats not so hot against Padres

The lore of Stephen Strasburg includes a 14-strikeout debut. It includes a triple-digit fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. And it includes, to date, a wildly successful recovery from Tommy John surgery.

It may now also include the case of the unfortunately placed ointment.

As if the top of the first inning of today's 6-1 loss to the Padres -- featuring a routine fly ball falling between three Nationals fielders, a sudden deluge requiring an eight-minute rain delay and three San Diego runs -- wasn't strange enough for Strasburg, manager Davey Johnson suggested afterward his young ace was also bothered by the misapplication of some heating balm.

"I can't really tell you what the problem was, but some hot stuff got misplaced," Johnson said in cryptic fashion. "It was on his shoulder, and evidently ... I don't know how it got to where it got. But it was uncomfortable, to say the least."

Strasburg would not discuss the subject when asked about it and seemed perturbed his manager volunteered the information at all.

"You know, I'm going to keep that in the clubhouse," the right-hander said.

Whatever truly happened, it was only one of multiple calamities that befell Strasburg during what proved to be one of the least-effective of his 25 career starts. In lasting only four innings while allowing four runs, the 23-year-old racked up 81 pitches and put his team in a hole it couldn't escape.

"I think I can learn a lot from this outing," he said. "I've got to just find the positives and remember that there's always going to be days like this where nothing's really going your way."

It began only six pitches into the afternoon, when Will Venable lofted what looked like a routine flyball to shallow left-center field. Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and Ian Desmond all pursued the pop-up, then all pulled up and watched the ball fall harmlessly to the ground for a gift double.

"It has nothing to do with communication," Bernadina said. "That ball, I should have caught it."

Strasburg tried to maintain his composure in the wake of the defensive gaffe, but it didn't take long before he had to deal with another distraction: A sudden cloudburst that sent the crowd of 23,902 scurrying for cover.

The umpires, led by crew chief Brian Gorman, let play continue under the poor conditions, and Strasburg clearly didn't look comfortable with it. He struggled to get a good grip on the ball, fidgeted with both the mound and the rosin bag and wound up walking two batters and allowing another single, loading the bases with two outs.

Then, with the count 3-2 to Padres catcher Jeff Baker and the rain coming down in buckets, Gorman finally pulled both teams off the field and called for the tarp.

"I mean, the ball was absolutely drenched," Strasburg said. "I probably could've hurt somebody."

Before the grounds crew could cover up the infield, though, the rain stopped. So after only an eight-minute delay to spread some drying agent on the mound, the plate and around the bases, Strasburg retook the mound, still facing Baker with the bases loaded, two outs and a full count.

"It's kind of like: OK, now I don't have any margin for error," Strasburg said.

The right-hander wound up grooving a fastball over the plate, then watched as Baker sent it scurrying back up the middle and past a diving Desmond for a two-run single that put San Diego up 3-0.

"But, I mean, you can pitch through those things," Johnson said. "Like I say, the fly ball dropping just exacerbates the situation. And then the rain delay doesn't make things easier."

Everything that transpired after that disastrous first inning almost seemed insignificant. Strasburg served up a solo homer to James Darnell in the third, then was yanked after laboring through the fourth. In the process, he saw his ERA jump to 2.25 from 1.64.

Facing a significant deficit, the Nationals could not produce a rally against Padres starter Anthony Bass. The 24-year-old right-hander carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning and carried a shutout into the fifth, until Bryce Harper belted his second home run in as many days.

Harper's blast into the center-field bleachers made him the first teenager to homer on back-to-back days since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989, but it did nothing to spark his teammates into a late offensive splurge. Bass wound up tossing eight innings of five-hit ball before finally turning things over to flamethrowing closer Andrew Cashner.

"Good-looking young pitcher," Johnson said of Bass. "Thought we had him kind of on the ropes a couple times, but just couldn't get the hit."

The Nationals never came close to getting Cashner on the ropes. San Diego's young closer made relatively quick work of the ninth, ending the game with a flourish as he blew a 101-mph fastball past Harper.

Thus the Nationals trudged off the field following a rare lopsided loss, only their fourth this season by more than four runs.

But their first in a game that featured a botched fly ball, an eight-minute rain delay and, of course, some unfortunately placed analgesic ointment.

"It was just tough conditions all around," Strasburg said. "But I'm not one to make excuses. It's just one of those games where you go out there and do your best to overcome the obstacles. Sometimes you just can't get out of it the way you want to."

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Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Bryce Harper singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip.

Nine players batted for Washington in the opening inning. Goodwin started it with a booming shot high above the home run line across the batter's eye in straightaway center.

Difo and Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Daniel Murphy walked and Anthony Rendon singled in a run. Jose Lobaton capped the scoring with a two-out RBI single before Strasburg bounced into a fielder's choice to end Ray's 39-pitch inning.

Arizona broke through with two runs in the fifth.

Chris Iannetta had a pinch-hit single with one out and David Descalso walked before Ketel Marte and David Peralta each singled in a run. With runners at first and third and one out, Blanton came on to strike out Paul Goldschmidt and got Chris Owings to ground into a fielder's choice.

The Diamondbacks had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth but Enny Romero struck out A.J. Pollock and Descalso bounced out to second. Romero left the game in the seventh with an apparent injury.

Arizona, 3-6 since the All-Star break, stranded 11 runners.

Washington's Andrew Stevenson, called up from Triple-A Syracuse, was 0 for 2 in his major league debut.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Washington placed OF Chris Heisey on the 10-day DL. Heisey strained his left groin in Saturday night's 4-3 victory. Additionally, OF Ryan Raburn was placed on the bereavement list.

Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez appeared in his first game in Arizona as a Diamondback after missing three games with a bruised wrist, the result of being hit by a pitch in his Diamondbacks debut. He walked as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Washington has Monday off and hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday. RH Edwin Jackson makes his second start for the Nationals.

Diamondbacks: Arizona begins a three-game home series against Atlanta on Monday night. Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.93 ERA), 9-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 home starts, goes for the Diamondbacks. R.A. Dickey (6-6, 4.14) counters for the Braves.

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- The newest additions to the Washington bullpen came through when called upon to help deliver a victory to their new team.

Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run by escaping a jam for his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning as the Nationals held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 on Saturday night.

"The game can really speed up on you once you start getting guys on base," said Doolittle, who with Madson arrived in a trade with Oakland earlier in the week. "The crowd and the energy of the stadium can kind of take over and ... you have to be mindful enough to step off the mound, slow the game down a bit, kind of press reset."

Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings for the NL East-leading Nationals.

"Curveball felt good. Just keep the hitter guessing," Roark said.

Harper hit his 25th home run on a full-count offspeed pitch from Anthony Banda (0-1), who lost in his major league debut.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom half, but the Nationals opened a 4-1 lead with a three-run sixth.

Harper hit a run-scoring double and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double, and Anthony Rendon beat out an RBI single that sent Zimmerman home.

"They had a young guy out there that throws the ball really hard, has good command. He's going to be really good in the next couple of years for sure," Harper said of Banda. "Just got him this time and got a few runs up there."

A.J. Pollock tripled in the bottom half and scored on Jake Lamb's groundout, and Arizona reliever Jorge De La Rosa got out of bases-loaded trouble in the seventh when he struck out Harper and Zimmerman.

Doolittle, acquired from Oakland last weekend, walked Lamb leading off the ninth. Iannetta hit a broken-bat grounder to third, and Rendon's throw to second went into right field for an error that put runners on the corners.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a sacrifice fly, Chris Owings flied out and Doolittle struck out Ketel Marte for his second save with the Nationals.

"Madson's been great for us. Doolittle ... he never panics. It was great to see. It's a lot of fun to have a back end like that," Harper said.

Banda allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked none. He was optioned back to Triple-A Reno after the game.

"I felt confident. I threw the ball in the zone and kept attacking hitters," Banda said. "I made a couple of mistakes, Harper and the middle of the lineup."