WASHINGTON (AP) — Sensational starts from Stephen Strasburg are no longer good enough for the Washington Nationals. The way they’re hitting the ball these days, they need him to be just about perfect.
The hard-throwing rookie suffered his first major league loss Thursday, despite another solid outing. He struck out nine to set another record, didn’t walk a batter and allowed only one run over six innings in a 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
“If we don’t score runs,” Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, “it doesn’t matter who’s pitching.”
Strasburg (2-1) was bested by Brian Bannister (7-5), who allowed five hits and walked two in six sparkling innings as the Royals snapped a five-game losing streak. Robinson Tejeda got six outs and Joakim Soria finished for his 17th save.
“I don’t care if I ever face him again,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “We gave him his first loss, and I can tell my grandkids 10 years down the road.”
So, skipper, how did you beat him?
“I don’t want the league to beat up on him,” Mr. Yost said. “We’ll just keep that to ourselves.”
Strasburg showed off his high heat in the high humidity of a sweaty summer afternoon, keeping his fastball in the high 90s despite the 93-degree temperature at first pitch. He got his 41st strikeout in his fourth major league start on the last batter he faced, freezing Scott Podsednik with an 83 mph curveball. That broke a record held by Herb Score, who fanned 40 in his first four major league starts for Cleveland in 1955.
And, for the third time in four starts, Strasburg never got to ball four on any batter. A stunning 75 of his 95 pitches were strikes.
The right-hander lowered his ERA to 1.78 but allowed nine hits, one fewer than in his first three starts combined. Most were scattered, but the Royals put three together to score with two out in the fifth. Jose Guillen, who reached three times and extended his hitting streak to 18 games, singled in David DeJesus.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Strasburg said. “They weren’t going to give in. They wanted to put the ball in play. They hit it in the spots and just found holes.”
Strasburg also reached base as a hitter for the first time, grounding a single into left field in the third inning. The bad news for the Nationals was he accounted for one-sixth of the team’s hits.
“They’re really trying hard out there. Things didn’t go our way today,” Strasburg said. “I know there’s going to be times when it’s going to be like this in the future. And there’s going to be times when I’m not pitching well, and they’ll just go out there and score a ton of runs and save me. It’s baseball.”
The Nationals have lost seven of nine, and they’ve been posting World Cup scores during their slump, including a pair of 2-1s and a now a pair of 1-0s. This time, a baserunning gaffe and a World Cup-type blown call hurt their chances.
In the fifth, Josh Willingham was halfway to home on a groundout to first — then turned around and went all the way back to third because he didn’t see the first baseman bobble the ball. In the sixth, plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ruled Roger Bernadina’s sliding foot didn’t beat the throw home from right fielder Guillen on a single by Adam Dunn.
The entire ballpark was stunned, and replays weren’t needed to back up Bernadina’s case.
“I definitely got in,” Bernadina said. “My feet were first before he put a hand on me, but the umpire called me out.”
It’s worth noting that the holiday buzz known as Strasmas might be starting to fade a bit. The attendance was 31,913, some 8,000 short of the sellout that greeted his first two home starts. At least Nationals Park was better prepared for a Strasburg outburst: The scoreboard was altered so that it can register 20 Ks instead of 12, which he surpassed in his debut.
“We’re on a nice list for Strasmas this year,” said Bannister, taking lighthearted pride in being the first to beat the young phenom. “It’s a tough list to get on to.”
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