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Strasburg, Nats fall to Brewers as second half opens

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2014

There was a long delay to snip rogue strings off a pitchers' gloves and another to decide which runner was out on a play and which one was safe. Ace starter Stephen Strasburg struck out nine batters and walked just one, yet was tagged with a loss.

On a weird night at Nationals Park, it was probably fitting that the end result was a 4-2 defeat to the Milwaukee Brewers. Scooter Gennett and Khris Davis hit solo home runs and Aramis Ramirez smacked a two-run single to right field.

That was all Brewers starter Kyle Lohse would need. Washington scored its lone runs in the fourth inning – an Ian Desmond double – and in the ninth, a solo shot by Bryce Harper, whose swing looked as good as it has since he returned from a long stint on the disabled list earlier this month. Lohse went seven innings with three strikeouts and no walks.

"He's always good, but tonight he's a guy that will throw anything at any given time," Nats outfielder Denard Span said. "He has three or four pitches and he'll throw them all for strikes. He just knows how to pitch, man. He just keeps getting better and better the older he gets."

Washington (51-43) fell a game out of first place in the NL East thanks to Atlanta's victory over Philadelphia. The Braves (53-43) have played two extra games.

Strasburg pitched seven innings, but was tagged early for those four runs. With his velocity down at times this season, Strasburg has had to be more balanced against opposing lineups that sit on his fastball. That didn't happen against the Brewers, though the pitch to Ramirez was up just enough to let a hitter having a great season flick the ball into the outfield.

Strasburg has had to adjust and is only now feeling his arm return to normal after offseason elbow surgery. To assuage his doubts, he spoke with teammate Drew Storen, who had a similar surgery in 2012 and took almost three months after his return just before the All-Star break that season before his fastball felt normal

"It feels great and everything, but it takes a little bit of time to get it back," Strasburg said. "Not saying that it's gonna be triple digits, but I think with the mechanical adjustments I've made working with [pitching coach Steve McCatty], it seemed to help me feel a little more comfortable out there, especially early innings where I can just let it go."

But fastball command remains an issue. Without touching the high 90s as regularly as he once did, Strasburg is even more vulnerable to opposing hitters jumping on him early. Milwaukee had five hits through the first four innings.

"I'm not too worried about it. I think it's starting to pick back up, which is good," Strasburg said of his velocity. "Maybe I'm throwing too many strikes. Maybe I need to be a little more effectively wild."

Later in the game, umpires had Washington trainer Lee Kuntz snip the laces on the glove of Storen, saying it could be a distraction to batters and an advantage on plays in the field where a tag is in play. A baffled Storen complied and pitched a scoreless eighth inning to keep the Nats close.

In the first inning, Denard Span was ruled safe and then that quickly changed to out at second base for unintentionally interfering with Gennett, the Brewers' second baseman, on a double-play attempt. But even though Gennett threw the ball to first base anyway and it was in time to beat Anthony Rendon, the batter, umpires said play was dead due to Span's contact. Rendon was the one ruled safe.

In the end, Lohse escaped the inning unscathed. And despite 11 hits on the night, Washington was left with a frustrating start to the second half of the season.

"We lost. Anytime you lose, there's no moral victories," Span said. "We want to win games. We'd rather get a win with one grand slam or one hit."

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