DETROIT - As far as Davey Johnson is concerned, Stephen Strasburg was on his A-game tonight right up until Alex Avila sent a 96 mph fastball deep into the Detroit night, turning a 1-1 game into a 5-1 Tigers lead in the sixth inning.
That shot spoiled what seemed like a stellar outing from Strasburg and set the Nationals up for another tough loss, one that dropped them back to three games below .500 and played a part in them now sitting 10 games back of the Braves in the National League East.
"I thought he pitched great," Johnson said of Strasburg. "He just made one bad pitch there, and (Avila) crushed it. But really, up to that inning, he really was very pitch-efficient and everything. Going right after them. I was thinking, the way he was going, he probably would give me nine innings. But I think he threw about 30 pitches that one inning. But that was still a good outing."
Strasburg worked his first five innings on just 59 pitches and did a nice job of navigating through a dangerous Tigers lineup, striking out four and stranding four runners. But the Avila grand slam was all the Tigers needed to open things up and give Anibal Sanchez his ninth career win over the Nats.
The end result was more of the same for Strasburg, who still is stuck on just five wins this season despite pitching pretty darn well for much of the season.
"We just haven't been scoring for him," Johnson said. "It's been a problem all year long. We just have not scored for Stras, for some reason."
To Johnson's point, Strasburg has the second-worst run support of any qualified starter in the majors.
Sanchez, on the other hand, was on point yet again. He allowed a leadoff triple to Bryce Harper and an RBI single to Ryan Zimmerman in the first, but the Nats didn't really threaten again until the sixth, when they stranded two runners in scoring position.
Sanchez allowed one run on five hits over seven innings tonight. He didn't have his strikeout stuff, notching just one K, but let his defense do the work behind him.
"He's always tough against us," Johnson said. "He started off a little slow and I was hoping we could get to him. But he's tough. He makes pitches when he has to and uses all his pitches. He's always been good against us.
"He's pretty consistent. He adds, subtracts on his fastball, uses all his breaking stuff. I thought he didn't have good stuff tonight. I thought he hung a bunch of sliders and we just didn't capitalize on it."
The Nats led after three innings. They were tied after five. But in the end, they got stuck with another loss.
"I mean we've been swinging the bats better, but this guy is tough on us," Johnson said. "I don't know, what is he 9-1 against us? Ridiculously tough. But tomorrow's another day."