Strasburg gives up early homer, settles in after that (Nats lose 3-1)

SAN DIEGO - Stephen Strasburg is back on the mound pitching for the Nationals, and his arm appears to be healthy. That, quite frankly, matters more at the moment than results.

Strasburg-Gray-Mets-Sidebar.jpgNot that Strasburg has pitched poorly so far in his first start in four weeks. He battled some shaky command in the bottom of the first and served up a two-run homer to Yangervis Solarte but otherwise has looked sharp in his return from an elbow injury.

Activated today following a four-week stint on the disabled list due to a nerve impingement in his elbow, Strasburg has displayed some of his best velocity of the season. His fastball has regularly hit 97-98 mph through his first four innings, his changeup registering 91 mph on a few occasions.

Strasburg’s command, though, was less impressive in his first inning, with the Padres connecting for three hard-hit balls. Solarte’s towering homer to right, off a 1-2 fastball on the inner-third of the strike zone, was the big blast and left the Nationals in an early 2-0 hole.

Strasburg has gotten better as his start has progressed, though. He retired 10 straight batters following the home run, five via strikeout.

The Nationals haven’t provided any run support yet despite a long top of the first that should have taxed San Diego starter Travis Wood. The left-hander needed a whopping 34 batters just to face the first four batters of the game, with both Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman drawing walks.

But the Nats couldn’t convert any of that into a run, and Wood has since dialed in and become significantly more efficient. After needing 36 pitches to complete the first inning, he has needed only 27 to complete the next three frames.

Update: Strasburg continues to look sharp. He is through five innings on 73 pitches, having struck out eight (five via changeup). And his teammates are on the board at last. Adrián Sanchez’s two-out RBI double in the top of the fifth drove in the Nats’ first run off Wood. They now trail 2-1 heading to the sixth.

Update II: Strasburg’s night is done, and it turned out to be a good night for him. He went six innings, allowing two runs on four hits, with one walk and eight strikeouts. He threw 91 pitches, 61 of those strikes, with a fastball that stayed in the 96-98 mph range all night and a changeup that was sharp throughout. Most importantly, he appeared to be healthy as he departed. Now it’s up to the Nats to get him off the hook for what would be an awfully tough loss. They still trail 2-1 at the seventh inning stretch.

Update III: Sammy Solís, who pitched a scoreless ninth last night, entered for the seventh tonight and created a mess. He walked two and gave up a single and departed with the bases loaded and nobody out. Matt Albers was asked to clean up that mess, and the big guy did an admirable job. He traded a run for a double-play grounder, then got a lineout to left to end the inning with only one run crossing the plate. So the Nats trail 3-1 heading to the eighth and needing to rally against the Padres bullpen.

Update IV: That’ll do it. The Nats, who admittedly weren’t playing with their “A” lineup, never could get going at the plate tonight and managed three hits and two walks in a 3-1 loss. Of far more importance, Strasburg looked quite good in his return from the DL.

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