Johnson on Burnett's struggles, late-inning drama (plus Werth, LaRoche updates)

Today's actual game might get lost in the shuffle amidst the news that Stephen Strasburg will make two more starts this season before getting shut down.

Let's just say I don't anticipate too much talk about Kurt Suzuki's offensive performance on ESPN or MLB Network tonight or tomorrow when the Nationals are mentioned. But the game itself was a thrilling battle between two playoff-caliber teams, one which the Nationals won 4-3 despite some hiccups in the late innings.

Thanks to six fantastic innings from Strasburg, the Nats held a 2-0 lead going to the seventh. Manager Davey Johnson pulled Strasburg after six, following the plan he's had for much of this season to hook Strasburg a little early in order to spread his innings out over as many starts as possible.

Johnson called on Sean Burnett for the seventh. After retiring the first two batters he faced, Burnett gave up a single to Pete Kozma and then a game-tying two-run homer to Daniel Descalso. As I mentioned earlier, that raised Burnett's ERA to 7.50 ERA over his last eight innings.

Johnson was asked if he's concerned about his lefty's tough stretch.

"Yeah, I mean, he made a bad pitch today," Johnson said. "Got behind, his control has not been as sharp. This is a pretty tough ballclub. They've got left-handers hitting left-handed pitching. Just can't make mistakes. I thought he was better today except for that one pitch."

Burnett has already made 61 appearances this season, putting him on pace for 74 appearances over the course of a 162-game season. If he reaches that total, it would be a career high. But Johnson doesn't think Burnett is feeling any fatigue, even though his velocity was down in the 88-89 mph range today.

Sean_Burnett_throwing_white-sidebar.jpg"He hasn't had a lot of work here. A sinkerballer really thrives on more work, the ball sinks better," Johnson said. "I get a little more worried when he gets up in the 91 (mph) range. I'm comfortable when he pitches 89-90. But I went to the whip on him (earlier), I worked him and he was unbelievably good against left, right, I don't care whatever. He usually went clean (innings). He might need a little blow. I've had him the last two games, I might give him a couple days off to regroup. Sometimes you catch a hot-hitting club, but he's been exceptional. I'm not worried about overpitching him."

Luckily, right after the Cardinals tied things up off Burnett, the Nats jumped right back on top in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, Ian Desmond drove in pinch runner Eury Perez, who had moved from second to third on his first career major league steal, and Danny Espinosa followed with an RBI single of his own to make it a 4-2 lead.

"That's the kind of club we've got, (strength) up and down the lineup," Johnson said. "Desi's been huge all year. I was a little upset with Perez running, he didn't have the green light, but (third base coach) Bo (Porter) talked to him. That caused (Desmond) to swing at a ball cap high. But other than that, played a good ballgame."

Ryan Mattheus allowed a run in the eighth to make it a 4-3 game, but Tyler Clippard closed it out with a perfect ninth to get the Nationals another win and give them three of the four games against the Cardinals in this series.

Suzuki provided the early offense, hitting his second home run since joining the Nationals and adding an RBI single in the sixth.

"Suzuki's been good, swinging the bat better," Johnson said. "Today he was outstanding. For some reason he's had pretty good success against (Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook), 3-for-6 with a home run. And you could tell from the first at-bat with runners in scoring position, the ball hit him in both legs and he didn't argue, he wanted to stay there and hit."

Johnson said Jayson Werth's hamstring is doing better despite the fact Werth was scratched from the lineup today. Werth felt the hamstring cramp up last night, but after the day off today, Johnson expects him to be ready to play tomorrow.

Same goes for Adam LaRoche, who didn't start today, Johnson said LaRoche texted him last night to tell him his back has been a little sore the last 2-3 days, but both LaRoche and Johnson expect the first baseman to be good to go tomorrow against the Cubs.

I'll leave you with one final quote from Johnson about LaRoche's text messaging skills and his thoughts on getting late-night text message injury updates from his players.

"He's a pretty good texter," Johnson said. "... It's really nice. Jayson Werth texts me, all these guys text me when they've got a little ailment. Maybe they wanna stay up another hour or maybe they wanna have another beer or something. I don't know."

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