He’s the ace for a reason

It sure is nice to have a pitcher who can take the mound with his team stuck on a three-game losing streak and promptly strike out 13, allowing just one earned run over six innings.

That’s what aces are for.

Stephen Strasburg picked the Nationals up last night, putting together yet another quality start - his seventh in as many outings this season - and helping to snap the Nats’ three-game skid.

The 23-year-old right-hander has made many a team look silly so far in his young career, but he apparently saves his best stuff for the Pirates. In his two career outings against Pittsburgh, 27 of the 39 outs he’s recorded have been via the strikeout.

That’s just silly.

Last night, Strasburg was on his game, allowing just two fourth-inning runs (only one of which was earned) on five hits over his six innings of work. He likely could’ve gone one more frame if not for a strange sixth inning in which he retired the first two hitters without incident, only to suddenly lose the strike zone completely and walk the next three Pirates to load the bases.

Strasburg recovered, however, striking out Garrett Jones to end the sixth. Jones, by the way, left the ballpark last night 0-for-6 with five strikeouts in his career against Strasburg.

It’s OK, Garrett, you’re not the only one who hates facing this guy.

I’ve said this before, but the reason the Nationals are unlikely to string together long losing streaks this season, regardless of how much their offense struggles, is because of their pitching.

When you’ve got Strasburg taking the hill every fifth day - at least until he’s shut down once he reaches his innings limit later this season - and then can follow him up with the other four guys in the Nats’ rotation, lengthy downturns will be rare. Last night, yet again, Strasburg played stopper and got his team back in the win column.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Nats put up a three-spot in the top of the sixth, with Roger Bernadina (solo shot) and Adam LaRoche (two-run bomb) connecting to give Strasburg a lead to work with.

As I discussed on “Nats Xtra” last night, Rick Ankiel’s solo homer in the top of the ninth was also huge, as it gave Henry Rodriguez a two-run cushion and eased some of the pressure on the Nats’ talented but unpredictable closer.

The Nats are now 14-1 in Strasburg’s career when they give him two or more runs of support while he’s in a game. Not too shabby, if you ask me.

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