Stephen Strasburg allowed just one run on two hits through eight innings and yet the Washington Nationals dropped their sixth straight in a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday night.
The loss was perhaps their worst yet, considering that, by all accounts, Strasburg (L, 5-8) pitched an absolute gem. The Pirates’ Francisco Liriano (W, 10-4) no-hit the Nats through 5.2 innings until Anthony Rendon, at last, singled to third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
It was Alvarez himself who put the Bucs on the board first in the second inning with a homer to center on a 2-1 count.
The homer marked Strasburg’s only mistake of the night, but with the way the Nats have been playing, one mistake was all it took. Despite incurring the loss, Strasburg recorded an impressive final line of 8.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 12 K, 1 HR. He tossed 80 of 118 pitches for strikes.
To make matters worse for the Nationals, Drew Storen took the mound in the ninth and quickly allowed the Pirates the opportunity to tack on insurance runs.
Starling Marte led off with a sharp liner up the middle for a single before Neil Walker doubled him home. After Andrew McCutchen lined out to Ryan Zimmerman, Storen intentionally walked Alvarez to strike out Gaby Sanchez.
At that point, Davey Johnson called upon Fernando Abad, who has provided the Nats with decent support as of late.
That wasn’t the case Wednesday, however, as the 27-year-old southpaw hit the first batter he saw – Jose Tabata – with a runaway fastball. The next batter, Michael McKenry, singled in Tabata, putting the Pirates up 4-0.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats seemed to come up with something they have lacked as of late – the ability to fight back after trailing through eight innings.
Zimmerman led off with a single off reliever Josh Harrison, setting up none other than Jayson Werth for an opportunity.
And, for the fifth time in four games, Werth pulled through with a homer, this time to right center field to put the Nats within two runs.
Surprisingly enough, the Nats’ shot at a rally didn’t stop there.
After Adam LaRoche struck out chasing a low-and-inside cutter from Mark Melancon, Wilson Rmos singled up the middle to keep the inning alive.
Denard Span stepped into the batter’s box in a do-or-die situation, only to ground to second baseman Walker.
On the play, Ramos scrambled to second but, while en route to the bag, Walker attempted to tag the catcher. Replays revealed Walker’s tag was short by nearly half a foot and yet umpire second-base umpire Laz Diaz called Ramos out, thereby ending the game.
The loss marks the Nats’ sixth straight as the team remains win-less since the All-Star break. In that same time frame, the Nats are also 2-for-35 with RISP.
THE GOOD: Stephen Strasburg provided the Nationals with an absolutely stellar performance. He made just one mistake – a mistake that the Nationals’ offense should have been able to erase – and yet he walks away the loser as Wednesday’s match-up.
Jayson Werth is about the only member of the Nationals’ squad who has made any offensive contributions. His two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth marked his fifth home run in his last four games played. He has batted in eight of the Nats’ last 10 runs scored.
THE BAD: Five total hits, two runs scored and one error is all the Nats could muster in a game that had the look and feel of a must-win, given how terrible a stretch Washington has endured. Laz Diaz’s poor call added salt to the wounds, of course, but the fact that the play made all the difference only illustrates how few opportunities the Nats have created for themselves.
THE STATS: 2 R, 5 H, 3 BB, 9 K, 0-for-3 with RISP, 5 LOB
NEXT GAME: Thursday, 12:35 p.m. at Nationals Park; RHP A.J. Burnett (4-7, 3.07) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.89)