May 4, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) slides past Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) with the game winning run during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Washington Nationals won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Strasburg Solid As Late-Game Gamble Leads To One-Run Win

If you had to name the two fastest players on the Nationals, I’m confident you wouldn’t pick Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. In fact, they might be the two slowest, but their speed was critical today.

Stephen Strasburg allowed four runs in seven innings, but the offense stepped up to the challenge and a Zimmerman-LaRoche double steal in the top of the ninth allowed a game-winning sacrifice fly by Tyler Moore to give the Nats the 5-4 win.

May 4, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Washington Nationals won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Strasburg again did not dazzle, allowing four runs in seven innings. He now has a 3.45 ERA on the season, nothing to scoff at, but has been the Nationals’ third best starter this season, leaving many to wonder why he seems different than last season. His stats are good this year, but he does not inspire confidence on the mound and has looked worse to the naked eye than his numbers indicate. In the first inning, where he has struggled the most this season, he got off to an inauspicious start by hitting Starling Marte with a pitch. Marte then stole second and reached third when Wilson Ramos‘ throw went into centerfield, but Strasburg stranded him by retiring the other three batters he faced. He threw a perfect second and was looking good when Ian Desmond‘s sacrifice fly gave the Nats a 1-0 lead in the top of the second.

Strasburg encountered trouble in the third, however, as Clint Barmes singled and Marte scored him with a two-run homer, putting the Pirates up by one. However, the offense came to Strasburg’s aid when it had not in the past. Another sacrifice fly tied the game in the top of the fourth after Ryan Zimmerman led the inning off with a triple, his first hit since returning from the DL. The hit would likely not have been a triple if it were not for the left fielder Marte’s decision to take his glove off his left hand and hold it in his right after the ball caromed off of the wall in left field. Unsurprisingly, the ball got by him, and Zimmerman reached third. After a scoreless fourth, the Pirates struck again in the fifth with a two-run homer by Barmes, who is hitting .192 on the season with a .256 slugging percentage. But once again, the offense bailed Strasburg out.

Pirates starter Jeff Locke came out for the sixth, but immediately allowed a single to Bryce Harper and walked Zimmerman and was pulled. His replacement, Justin Wilson, walked Adam LaRoche, who was 1-1 with three walks and a sacrifice fly, to load the bases. FOX announcer Howard Davis informed us that “the sacks are soaked”, and Tyler Moore struck out for out number one. Next up, Ramos made Wilson pay by delivering a two-run single that tied the game, 4-4. The threat would end there, unfortunately, as Roger Bernadinaand Strasburg would strike out to end the frame. In the seventh, the Nats would load the bases with two outs again, but Moore would strike out again, squandering the opportunity. The Nationals had many opportunities, with six walks, three HBPs, and two reached-on-errors in addition to their six hits, but were only 1-10 with runners in scoring position, scoring three runs on sac flies and stranding ten runners.

Tyler Clippard (W, 2-1) pitched a scoreless eighth thanks to a nice double play on a liner straight to him after Andrew McCutchen singled with one out. In the ninth, Zimmerman and LaRoche reached thanks to a HBP on Zimmerman’s leg and a walk to bring up the 0-3 Moore. It was here that Davey Johnson took a chance. Pitcher Tony Watson was not paying close attention, perhaps believing the gimpy Zimmmerman would not run, and the manager took advantage, sending both runners. The ploy worked spectacularly, with both runners getting massive jumps and reaching without a throw. It also paid immediate dividends, with Moore delivering a sacrifice fly to give the Nats the 5-4 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, Rafael Soriano locked it down to earn his tenth save. The Nationals are now 16-15, cutting the now-struggling Braves’ (5-11 in their last 16) lead to two games.

Next Game: Sunday in Pittsburgh, 1:35  PM. Gonzalez (2-2, 5.34) v. Rodriguez (2-1, 3.91)

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