A smoothly-played first five frames (Avila having a grand old time)

DETROIT - Stephen Strasburg cruised through his first three innings of work, but if you make mistakes against this Tigers lineup, they will most certainly make you pay.

In the fourth, Strasburg walked Prince Fielder for the second time in as many at-bats, then left two balls right out over the middle of the plate to Jhonny Peralta and Andy Dirks.

The result was single from Peralta and a ground-rule double just inside the left field line from Dirks, allowing the Tigers to knot this game at 1-1.

Strasburg has struck out four and thrown just 59 pitches through five innings thus far. His curveball has been incredibly sharp - to the point that it buckled the knees of both Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter, nearly backing Hunter out of the batter’s box on a called third strike - and while he’s overthrown his changeup at times, it’s been a decent out-pitch for him.

The Nationals right-hander has done well to navigate a treacherous lineup and allow just three hits, but the Nats haven’t gotten much more off of Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez, who allowed a Bryce Harper triple and a Ryan Zimmerman RBI single in the first but just one hit since.

Meanwhile, some sad news to report tonight: Gavin Rupp, the 13-year-old battling brain cancer that threw out the first pitch at Nats Park earlier this month, has passed away, a Nationals spokeswoman confirmed.

Harper befriended Rupp at Nats Park, talking to him for over a half an hour prior to a game. The meeting touched a cord with Harper, who tweeted that night: “Gavin Rupp is truly an inspiration to me! He is a warrior and will always be in my heart and mind! #HesMyHero”

It’s unclear whether Harper was aware of Rupp’s passing before tonight’s game started, but if he was, his triple leading off the first inning surely felt pretty special.

Update: Strasburg was one out away from wiggling out of a huge jam in the sixth. Instead, he and the Nationals are now in a 5-1 hole going to the seventh.

Alex Avila demolished a 96 mph fastball from Strasburg in a 2-1 count, sending it way out to right for his first career grand slam. Strasburg had struck out Dirks a batter prior on a gutsy 3-2 curveball, but he fell behind Avila and made a mistake with a knee-high heater, and Avila dropped the barrel to it.

The Nats now find themselves in a big hole against Sanchez, who has really settled in after allowing that run in the first.

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