Except for home run, Strasburg in command (Nats lose 4-3)

VIERA, Fla. - It seems odd to see the 0-2 record next to Stephen Strasburg’s name on the stats sheet. The 4.66 ERA he toted into today’s game against the Tigers looks a little strange, too. But then again, this is spring training and the stats here don’t count.

What’s that old baseball adage about not making player personnel judgments based on statistics from March or September?

Through three innings in his sixth spring start, Strasburg has looked pretty much in command, save for the pitch that Matt Tuisosopo muscled up on with two down in the second and sent over the wall in right. It was a no-doubt-about-it blast, the fourth of spring training for a guy who may be hitting his way onto the Tigers’ 25-man roster.

In the first inning, Strasburg sandwiched called and swinging strikeouts around a harmless groundout. In the second, he induced ground balls from the first two batters, then allowed Tuisosopo’s blast before Ramon Santiago flew out to left.

Strasburg got into trouble in the third, and not of his own doing, and promptly extricated himself from a jam. After Danny Worth was caught looking at a called third strike, Kevin Russo reached when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman overran hit roller, picking up an error. Quintin Berry followed with a single to right-center, putting runners at the corners. But Strasburg got Don Kelly to bounce into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Heading to the bottom of the third, the Nationals trail 1-0.

Update: While Strasburg looks strong, the Nats’ bats have been very quiet. Tigers lefty Drew Smyly has set down the first nine Nationals in order, allowing only one ball out of the infield - Kurt Suzuki’s fly out to left for the second out of the third. Smyly has gotten five groundouts, one infield pop-up and two strikeouts.

Update II: Strasburg just dodged a bullet in the fourth - a screamer off the bat of Prince Fielder that appeared to hit the right-hander just above his gloved left hand, on either his wrist or forearm. The ball went into short center field and a contingent of Nats personnel immediately hit the field to check on the ace.

Manager Davey Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz checked Strasburg out, and after a couple of warm-up pitches, he remained in the game. He did apply ice to the hand after the inning in the dugout, however.

Strasburg must not have been hurt, since he got a fielder’s choice grounder and then finished off the fourth inning with a pair of strikeouts, running his total for the afternoon to five.

Update III: The Nationals finally got a base runner - two of them, actually - in the fourth. With one down, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper singled, but that’s as far as the rally went. Zimmerman struck out and Adam LaRoche grounded sharply to first for the final out.

Strasburg is back out to work the fifth.

Update IV: The top of the fifth is in the books, and Strasburg didn’t look as strong after icing down his left hand. He gave up a leadoff single to Worth, got two outs and was close to getting out of the inning before the Tigers tacked on a pair of runs.

Kelly walked and Victor Martinez and Fielder laced RBI singles. Strasburg seemed to be fighting himself on his last couple of batters, clearly not happy with his lack of command.

Ian Desmond just led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo homer to left center, so it’s now 3-1.

Update V: Strasburg got through a 1-2-3 sixth inning unscathed, and Denard Span’s leadoff single in the bottom of the inning just sent Smyly to the showers in favor of left-hander Jose Alvarez.

Johnson would like to get Strasburg up around 100 pitches, and it wouldn’t be shocking considering the hit the right-hander took from Fielder, that he called it a day after six. But he’s at 89 pitches unofficially. Assuming he’s OK, and there’s no reason not to, I think he comes out for the seventh.

Update VI: Strasburg’s day is done, and Henry Rodriguez is in to work the seventh. Rodriguez’s first pitch was reminiscent of Nuke LaLoosh in “Bull Durham.” Good thing there wasn’t a mascot around to get plunked.

Strasburg allowed three runs on seven hits, walked one and struck out five. He threw 55 of his 89 pitches for strikes.

Rodriguez loaded the bases on a double and two walks and was lucky to escape the jam by allowing only a run on a sacrifice fly. Center fielder Roger Bernadina misread a fly ball, took a bad route and redeemed himself with a diving catch as a run scored for a 4-1 Tigers lead.

Update VII: The Nats scored twice in the seventh on sacrifice flies by Desmond and Suzuki, but the rally ended there. The Tigers came away with a 4-3 win in Viera.

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