The Washington Nationals (28-20) started a three game away series against the Cincinnati Reds (20-27) Friday evening. The Nats dropped the first game of the set, losing 5-2 to the Reds. The Nats had plenty of opportunities to score runs, but could not get hits with runners on base. The Nats stranded 13 base runners during the course of this game
The focus of this game, for Nationals fans, was the performance of Stephen Strasburg, who was starting for the Nats. After several rough starts, questions were swirling about Strasburg’s focus, health, mechanics, and mental toughness. How would Stras look on the mound–a pitcher in control of himself and his pitches or the guy who couldn’t get out of the fourth inning in his last start and also failed to cover bases in three crucial situations which led to runs being scored?
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There were no answers to any of these questions in this game. Strasburg lasted one inning and one batter. He was rolling his neck and shoulder after throwing to Brayan Pena to start the second inning after falling awkwardly toward first during a pitch. After walking Pena, Matt Williams went out for a mound visit and Strasburg came out of the game after throwing just sixteen pitches. Taylor Jordan, who joined the team earlier in the week, was called upon to take over for Strasburg.
After the game, Williams gave an update on Strasburg’s injury:
Anthony DeSclafani got the start tonight for the Reds. He is one of their young guns, acquired from the Miami Marlins in the offseason in the Mat Latos trade. Washington saw him three times with the Marlins last year in a relief role and he blanked the Nats all three times. This was the first time the Nats have seen him as a starter.
The Nats squandered an opportunity to score runs right from the start. After Denard Span grounded out, Ian Desmond singled and went to third on a single by Yunel Escobar. With runners on the corners and one out, Bryce Harper struck out looking and Ryan Zimmerman flew out to right to end the inning.
Joey Votto put the Reds ahead in the bottom of the first with a home run to left center, his eighth of the season off Strasburg. Todd Frazier singled and Strasburg looked like he was getting into trouble. However, Zimmerman took care of that with an unassisted double play on a ball hit by Jay Bruce.
The Nationals got their next good scoring opportunity in the top of the fifth inning. Wilson Ramos doubled to center start the inning. Danny Espinosa popped out for the first out. Michael Taylor walked and Jordan reached on a bunt single to third.
With the bases loaded, Span chopped a ball on the infield and the Reds threw Ramos out at home. With the bases still loaded, Desmond hit a ball in the infield just far enough to the third base side to score Taylor from third. Escobar grounded out to end the inning, but the Nats had scored their first run to tie the game 1-1.
The Nats went ahead in the top of the sixth. Harper flew out and then Zimmerman doubled to right. Ramos hit a ball hard up the middle and Zimmerman scored from second on a brilliant slide at home to avoid the tag by Pena. Ramos went to second on the throw home, but he was stranded there when Espinosa popped out and Jordan flew out. But, the Nats were up 2-1.
Jordan pitched well in relief of Strasburg. He held the Reds scoreless until the bottom of the sixth. He got the first out of the inning, but walked Marlon Byrd. Skip Schumaker doubled to put runners on second and third. Brandon Phillips would pinch hit for DeSclafani and drive in a run with a sacrifice fly to left that tied the score at two. Taylor threw home on the fly ball and made a terrific throw to the plate. But, Ramos couldn’t handle the short hop and the run scored. This has been a continuing problem for Ramos. That out would have gotten the Nats out of the inning without any runs scoring.
Billy Hamilton hit a ball to shallow center field to score Schumaker to put the Reds ahead 3-2 and that was the end of Jordan’s night. He was eventually charged with three runs. Aaron Barrett came in to get the last out of the bottom of the sixth. Hamilton stole second on the first pitch Barrett threw. Zack Cozart hit a hanging slider that was up in the zone for a single, which scored Hamilton. Now, Barrett had to deal with Votto. He struck him out on a high fastball and got the Nats out of the inning.
The Reds brought in relief pitcher Jumbo Diaz to face the top of the Nationals order in the top of the seventh. Span opened up the inning with a single. Desmond struck out. Escobar struck out on a wild pitch, which got Span to second with two outs.
With Harper coming up, the Reds elected to change pitchers to get the left on left matchup. Tony Cingrani was brought in to face Bryce. Bryce had not had a hit against Cingrani in three opportunities in the past. Cingrani hit him with the first pitch right in the middle of his back. The Nats did not cash in on this opportunity either. With two on, Zimmerman lined out to Votto for the third out.
To this point, the Nats had stranded nine runners. Blake Treinen pitched the bottom of the seventh and gave up a lead off home run to Frazier. His 15th home run of the season put the Reds up 5-2.
The Nats loaded the bases with two out in the top of the eighth with Espinosa, pinch hitter Dan Uggla and Span drawing walks against Cingrani. Cingrani was replaced with Reds reliever J. J. Hoover to face Desmond. Desmond struck out and the Nats squandered another opportunity to drive in runs.
That was unfortunate, because the Nats had to face Aroldis Chapman in the top of the ninth, who is one of the best closers in baseball. Despite Harper getting a single on a 102 mile per hour fastball, the rest of the Nats hitters couldn’t handle Chapman’s fastball/changeup combination.
Next Game: The Nationals continue their series with the Cincinnati Reds at the Great American Ball Park, where it will be Billy Hamilton Bobblehead Night. The game starts at 4:10 pm EST with Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 4.53 ERA) squaring off against Raisel Iglesias (1-1, 4.26 ERA). You can catch the game on MASN2.