Stephen Strasburg flashed midseason form, but the rest of the Nationals still seemed stuck in Spring Training as the Washington Nationals fell to the Houston Astros, 4-2.
Strasburg pitched lights-out in the losing effort, going 5.1 innings and allowing just one run on five hits and one walk while striking out eight, including five in a row at one point. He mowed down the Astros, and allowed his only run on a bit of a surprising play: a Rick Ankiel home run. But perhaps more significant than his stat line was his pitch count. In a spring training start two weeks before the season, Strasburg threw 93 pitches, more than he did in 14.3% of his starts last season (4/28). This long, early outing marks a significant departure from the conservative pitch counts Strasburg was constrained by in 2012. In addition to being limited to 160 innings in him Tommy John surgery recovery last season, he rarely went deep in individual starts and never threw a pitch in the eighth inning. Now, another year removed from his injury, Strasburg is ready to go farther than he has before, and Saturday’s start was a great beginning.
As good as Strasburg was, he was matched pitch for pitch early by Astros starter Lucas Harrell. In his four innings, Harrell allowed no hits, with two walks and three strikeouts. He locked down a lineup composed almost entirely of Nats regulars, with Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman leading it off. The game was particularly noteworthy for Zimmerman, who went 0-2 in four innings of play, because it marked his first game back fielding at third base since offseason shoulder surgery and a reformation of his throwing motion. According to the Washington Post, Zimmerman admitted to be “nervous” in returning to game action, but easily handled the one grounder that came to his position. All indications are that his shoulder is healthy, but it will take time for Zimmerman to get back to being comfortable throwing the ball across the diamond. Offensively, Zimmerman had been hot this spring, but was unable to make a mark against Harrell. Adam LaRoche finally broke through once Harrell was pulled, with a single off reliever Welsey Wright to start off the fifth. Evidently, Astros manager and former Nats 3B coach Bo Porter was so disappointed in Wright’s failure to continue the no-hitter that he pulled him immediately, and put in Hector Ambriz, who proceeded to retire the next three Nats in order to end the fifth.
Meanwhile, it was Craig Stammen‘s turn to dominate for the Nats. He threw 1.2 innings, allowed no hits or walks, and struck out two. In between his two innings, the Nationals were able to take the advantage against top Rule 5 draft choice Josh Fields. With the bases loaded and two outs, Astros 3B Marwin Gonzalez dropped an easy popup from Adam LaRoche, scoring Denard Span and allowing Ian Desmond to hit an RBI single in the following at-bat, which gave the Nationals a 2-1 lead. Both LaRoche and Desmond finished the game 1-3, while Span went 1-4. But in the eighth, Drew Storen unfortunately undid what Strasburg and Stammen had worked so hard to accomplish the rest of the game. He allowed three runs on four hits and a walk, including an RBI from 2012 number one overall pick SS Carlos Correa. The Nationals fate was then sealed, as reliever Edgar Gonzalez continued to cruise. His final line: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 K. With the loss, the Nationals fell to 9-10-2 in Spring Training.
Next Game: Today @ Detroit (Lakeland, FL), 1:05 PM