LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The balls are flying out of Champion Stadium tonight, as the Nationals and Braves have combined to hit four home runs through four innings of play.
Two have come off Nats’ bats - a two-run shot from Chad Tracy and a solo blast by Jesus Flores - but the two that will draw the most attention were the homers hit off Nationals right Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg allowed four runs in his four innings of work, and surrendered longballs to Dan Uggla (a two-run shot in the first) and Jayson Heyward (a solo homer in the fourth).
While Strasburg showed impressive velocity early in tonight’s outing, sitting at 97-99 mph and hitting 101 on the surely-juiced stadium gun, he struggled with his control. By my count, only 43 of Strasburg’s 73 pitches were for strikes, and he often fell behind in the count.
Heyward’s homer came on a 2-0 fastball that was planted right down the middle and was rudely smacked deep over the right-center field wall.
Strasburg’s final line in his four innings: four earned runs, five hits, two walks and only one strikeout. Not exactly his finest night.
Overall this spring, Strasburg has allowed eight earned runs and 11 hits in 9 2/3 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, Bryce Harper’s return to the Nats’ lineup has been fairly quiet so far. The phenom has gone 0-for-2 tonight, striking out on three pitches in his first at-bat against Braves uber-prospect Julio Teheran and then grounding out to third in the fourth inning.
Harper’s seen minimal defensive action in center field, but he was a little over-eager on the first ball hit his way, drifting way over to right field to make a grab on a fly ball off the bat of Braves catcher David Ross. Harper ended up catching the ball about a foot away from right fielder Eury Perez, who seemed surprised that the 19-year-old followed the ball that far into right.
As we enter the top of the sixth, the Nats trail the Braves 4-3. Tom Gorzelanny is now in for the Nats in relief of Strasburg.
Update: The Nats battled back to take a 5-4 lead in the eighth, thanks to an RBI hits by Chad Tracy and Carolos Maldonado, but reliever Ryan Mattheus immediately allowed two runs in the bottom of the frame, and the Nats take the loss.