AJ Burnett struck out 12 Washington Nationals (75-55) in seven innings, holding them to just one run, meaning that good pitching was not enough for the Nats, as they dropped the series opener to the Philadelphia Phillies (59-72), 3-2.
Tanner Roark, as always, was solid. He put runners on the corners in the first, but escaped and retired the next six Phillies he faced. Ground ball singles, including a potential inning-ending double play ball that slipped under Danny Espinosa’s glove, gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead in the fourth, and a colossal home run from Cody Asche in the fifth tacked on another. In the end, Roark (L, 12-8) threw six innings, giving up two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out two.
Burnett (W, 7-14) dominated the Nats all night, retiring the first eight he faced before a single from Roark. He rolled through seven innings, giving up one run on three hits and a walk while striking out an amazing 12.
Burnett’s success was largely predicated on two things: his control and his sharp curveball. The Nats started the game somewhat passively, not swinging much as they knew Burnett’s reputation for wildness and walks. In fact, Ian Desmond struck out looking in a six-pitch at-bat in which he did not swing once, causing FP Santangelo to remark that we may have witnessed a career first. But Burnett was able to locate his pitches well, forcing the Nats to swing.
But most fatal to the Nationals was Burnett’s excellent curve. It had great depth, and Burnett controlled it superbly. He could throw it for a strike in the bottom of the zone, and he could bend it in on lefties to induce swings and misses. The Nats were helpless against it, and that was all she wrote at the plate. The only run the Nationals managed against him was a solo homer from Anthony Rendon.
The Nats got leadoff doubles in the seventh and eighth from Desmond and former Phillie Kevin Frandsen, but went 0-3 after them each time. Jerry Blevins gave up a solo homer to Carlos Ruiz in the seventh, which figured massively in the game after Wilson Ramos’ solo homer in the ninth cut the deficit to 3-2. Asdrubal Cabrera followed Ramos with a pinch-hit single, but Nate Schierholtz grounded out sharply to end the game.
The Nationals lose a game on the idle Atlanta Braves, and will face the Phillies and Cole Hamels tomorrow.