Punchless Nationals squander Strasburg's gem in 4-0 loss

LOS ANGELES - It was as electric a moment as the Nationals have experienced so far this season, it ranked with any moment of Stephen Strasburg's career and it felt like it could have been the moment that propelled the Nats to come back and beat the Dodgers tonight.

By game's end, though, Strasburg's dazzling escape from a bases-loaded jam in the sixth was a mere footnote. Such is life when the opposition tacks on runs late and your own lineup totals two hits during a 4-0 loss at Dodger Stadium.

"He pitched a great game," shortstop Trea Turner said of Strasburg. "He got himself in a little bit of trouble and got right out of it and kept us in the ballgame. And we just couldn't get him any runs on the offensive side."

No, the exact same Nationals lineup that ambushed Clayton Kershaw for four runs in Friday's series opener was completely shut down by fellow left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. Matt Wieters singled with one out in the second. Turner singled with one out in the third. Bryce Harper walked twice and Ryan Zimmerman walked once. And that was it for the Nationals' batting line in this game.

Ryu retired the last 13 batters he faced. Reliever Tony Cingrani extended the streak to 16 with a perfect eighth. And though closer Kenley Jansen issued a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Matt Adams in the ninth, that represented the Nats' lone baserunner over the game's final six innings.

"The guys were battling," manager Davey Martinez said. "But (Ryu) made some really good pitches. Didn't give us much to square up."

The Nationals' only real chance came in the third, when after back-to-back walks of Harper and Zimmerman, Ryu faced a bases-loaded, two-out jam. But Moisés Sierra, still pressed into service as the team's No. 5 hitter given injuries to Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton, grounded out to short to kill that rally.

"That one inning, when I got on base and he walked Harp and Zim, that was kind of our best shot," Turner said. "But for the most part, (Ryu) was kind of comfortable and cruising. He's tough to square up. So if you can get somebody on base or walk, I think that's kind of how you get him out of his rhythm."

The Dodgers made some consistently solid contact early on against Strasburg, but only one of them was able to make it count for something. Joc Pederson's drive to center field on a 97-mph fastball in the bottom of the second gave Los Angeles a 1-0 lead, a lead that would stand for quite a while.

Strasburg-Throws-Red-Beard-Sidebar.jpgStrasburg wasn't necessarily sharp all night, but he was effective. And when it really came down to crunch time, he delivered in impressive fashion.

A single, a wild pitch, a walk and a hit batter left the right-hander in a dilly of a pickle in the bottom of the sixth; bases loaded, nobody out, the middle of the Dodgers lineup due up. But with the crowd roaring and disaster looming with every pitch, Strasburg silenced them all with a 1-2-3 punch as awe-inspiring as any he's produced in his career.

He struck out Cody Bellinger on an 88 mph changeup. He struck out Pederson on a 97 mph fastball. And then he struck out Matt Kemp on a 98 mph fastball, hopping off the mound and bounding back to the dugout having just escaped as difficult a jam as he's ever faced.

"I knew that was going to be the deciding factor of the game," Strasburg said. "So I gave it all I had there and tried to keep it as close as I could."

"He pretty much said: 'I'm going to throw my fastball, and I'm going to throw it by you,'" Wieters said. "That's impressive, with his kind of fastball. We know about his curveball and changeup. When he pitches with that kind of aggression with his fastball, it's like: 'Here it is, see if you can hit 97.' It speaks for how confident he was in it tonight."

Strasburg did leave one more fastball over the plate in the seventh, and pinch-hitter Kiké Hernández launched it into the left field bleachers to extend the Dodgers' lead to 2-0. Bellinger's towering, two-run homer off newly promoted reliever Carlos Torres in the bottom of the eighth provided some extra cushion for Jansen in the ninth.

Not that the Dodgers needed much cushion on this night. One run would've been enough.

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