WASHINGTON (AP) - Stephen Strasburg's next-to-last pitch of the night was a 77 mph breaking ball that caused the hitter to duck down and curl away from the plate _ as though worried he might get plunked in the head.
The pitch, of course, curled in for a strike.
One throw later, his 75th of the evening, was Strasburg's last, and it resulted in a groundout, meaning the ballyhooed righty had retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced Friday. Things didn't start out that well, though: Strasburg allowed four hits in an inning for the first time in his brief career _ according to STATS LLC _ and his Washington Nationals lost 7-4 to the Atlanta Braves.
In all, Strasburg went four innings, giving up five singles and three runs, two earned. All the scoring came in that 38-pitch, 18-minute, four-hit top of the first inning.
"That was not typical him," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He was throwing more than he was pitching, and his location wasn't as good."
Johnson said Strasburg was "hyper" and "amped up."
The pitcher didn't disagree.
"I'm amped up every game, but sometimes it takes a little bit longer to find a groove," Strasburg said.
He was pleased that he pitched better as the game progressed, but he knew that he wasn't going to get a chance to stay out there too long, given that this was only his fourth start in the majors since coming back from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
"There's going to come a time where they're going to let me stay out there longer, and if I give up three runs in the first and put up zeros the rest of my start, I'm going to be happy," Strasburg said.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty explained that this is part of the process of developing Strasburg into a complete pitcher, one who is capable of throwing 98 mph to 100 mph on every pitch but dials that down somewhat on purpose.
"You don't need to throw every pitch as hard as you can throw it," McCatty said.
This was Strasburg's final home start of 2011, and his 16th appearance in the big leagues. Johnson confirmed after Friday's game that Strasburg will pitch once more this season: in the finale at the Florida Marlins on Wednesday.
"Obviously, there's a lot of hype around their starter," Atlanta's Chipper Jones said. "Not a lot of people gave us a chance to win tonight, but we came out swinging the bats good in the first. Got his pitch count up."
After striking out leadoff hitter Michael Bourn swinging, Strasburg allowed consecutive singles to Martin Prado, Jones and Dan Uggla, who made it 1-0. Strasburg then struck out Brian McCann swinging at a 97 mph fastball, before Freddie Freeman delivered an RBI single, grounding it just past the outstretched glove of second baseman Danny Espinosa.
Jack Wilson then hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The ball bounced off Zimmerman's right wrist, between his legs and trailed off into left field for a fielding error that scored Uggla, making it 3-0.
Collin Balester replaced Strasburg for the fifth and walked two batters before serving up Uggla's RBI double. And that was it for Balester, who was charged with three runs, because the next reliever, Atahualpa Severino, was greeted by McCann's two-run double.
NOTES: Washington's five-game winning streak _ including a four-game sweep at NL East champion Philadelphia _ ended. ... Nationals RF Jayson Werth hit his 20th homer in the eighth off Jonny Venters, one of four relievers used by Atlanta. It was only the third homer off Venters in the 169 innings he's pitched in the majors.