It might just be perception, but it seems like something about facing Stephen Strasburg makes the opposing pitcher pitch like, well, Stephen Strasburg.
Seven strong innings from Strasburg weren’t enough for the Washington Nationals (20-19), who managed just seven hits and one run against the Arizona Diamondbacks (16-26) and Bronson Arroyo.
Strasburg (L, 3-3) turned in a great appearance, in part because he avoided trouble with his main bugaboo: the first inning. He tossed a 1-2-3 first inning and had given up just two hits to go with two strikeouts through three. But the heart of the Arizona lineup got to him in the fourth and fifth innings. He gave up six hits and three runs in those two frames, including an RBI single from Miguel Montero and a two-run double by Paul Goldschmidt.
In the sixth and seventh, Strasburg retired all six batters he faced to finish with a reasonably impressive line: seven innings, eight hits, three runs, no walks, and six strikeouts. Unfortunately, the only stat that mattered was the 3-1 deficit the Nats were saddled with when he departed.
While their starter did not give up any early runs, the Nats turned the table on the narrative by scoring early themselves. Preceded by a Wilson Ramos single, Ian Desmond blasted a triple to right to put the Nats on top 1-0 with no outs in the second. But the Nats could not drive in Desmond in three tries, perhaps in part due to the decision to have Strasburg sacrifice bunt with one out after a Tyler Moore walk.
Seven straight Nats went down after the second, and while the Nats managed five hits over the next four innings, they were all singles and no more than two came at once. Windy conditions at open-roofed Chase Field were also a contributing factor. Kevin Frandsen massacred a ball to left in the eighth, one that F.P. Santangelo remarked was harder hit than his home run yesterday, but it died on the warning track. Later in the frame, Werth demolished one to the same spot, but the ball dove down before the warning track instead of flying out for a 4-3 Nats lead.
Arroyo, who entered tonight’s game with a 4.89 ERA and a high of 97 pitches in a start this year, thoroughly dominated the Nats. He gave up just seven hits and one walk in his nine innings while striking out seven and lopping 0.74 points off his ERA. The Nats, who score a relatively high percentage of their runs via the home run, suffered from the wind and from Jim Reynolds’ low strike zone, which allowed Arroyo to keep the ball low and induce 13 ground balls against just seven fly balls.
Six of the eight starting position players for the Nats had a hit, but the two who didn’t may have needed them the most. An 0-for-4 dropped Denard Span’s triple slash line to .241/.287/.338, good for a 72 wRC+, meaning that he is 38% less valuable than the average hitter. Of course, he’s never had a full season with an OBP less than .327, and his amazing defense means he’s still on pace to post 2.0 wins above replacement for the full season, but it may be time to drop him in the lineup. Danny Espinosa was also hitless and is now hitting .235/.246/.445. He’s gone stone cold since his torrid start, but still rates as an above-average hitter with a 102 wRC+, which surely comes from his great power hitting. Surprisingly, Fangraphs considers him a below-average defender so far this season, which is why he’s on pace for just 1.6 WAR.
The rubber game will be on Wednesday at 3:40 pm EDT.
– Arroyo helped his own cause, going 2-for-3 as a hitter, scoring a run and becoming only the second pitcher to get two hits against Strasburg in his career. That was the kind of night it was for him.
– Drew Storen’s underusage was a bit of a story coming into tonight, but he appeared in the eighth and retired the Diamondbacks in order. He has been superlative in 2014, with 14 strikeouts, one walk, a 1.46 ERA, and a 0.57 ERA in 12.1 innings.
(AP Photo/Matt York)