Despite late controversy, Nats pull off 5-2 win over Cubs

The Nationals secured a much-needed 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night, thanks to Stephen Strasburg, big hits from the middle of their lineup and the undeterred Sean Doolittle.

Strasburg-Armed-Forces-White-sidebar.jpgStrasburg pitched eight innings for the win. Brian Dozier hit his sixth homer. Juan Soto had two hits and three RBIs. Howie Kendrick also added a run-scoring double as Washington improved to 19-26 to even the series at one game apiece.

Controversy slowed up the ending. With Doolittle on in the ninth, Cubs manager Joe Maddon came out to complain about what he felt was a toe-tap hesitation by the Nats closer in his delivery to home plate. The skipper felt his pitcher, Carl Edwards Jr., had been stopped from doing the same thing back on opening day.

Maddon came out to argue with crew chief and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook during pinch-hitter Alfred Almora Jr.’s at-bat. He felt that Doolittle was toe-tapping twice with his plant foot to slow his delivery and add deception.

“It’s really simple. That’s exactly what Carl was told he can’t do,” Maddon said. “And I was told it was an illegal pitch and he can’t do it. I went to Sam (Holbrook), and I told him that. And he said, ‘in our judgment.’ I said, ‘there’s no judgment. If he taps the ground, it’s an illegal pitch, period.’ There’s nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It’s obvious that he did. If you can’t tell that, then there’s something absolutely wrong. So that was my argument.”

Maddon came out twice in the inning to speak with the umpire, twice delaying Doolittle. Holbrook said in the pool report: “He thought he was tapping his foot, which in itself is not illegal, and this all kind of stems from his pitcher being called on something that was a little bit different than what Doolittle was doing. So in our judgment, Doolittle did nothing illegal at all.”

Maddon played the game under protest. Despite the interruptions, Doolittle retired Almora, Kyle Schwarber with a called third strike and Kris Bryant with a popout to first base to end the game. It was Doolittle’s eighth save of the season.

“After the first time Joe came out, the home plate umpire was like ‘You’re fine, just keep it moving,’ ” Doolittle said. “Like ‘Don’t start, stop and start again, just keep moving,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s what I do all the time anyway,’ so it became like in that moment he’s not trying to do anything other than rattle me. And it was kind of tired. I don’t know, sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game.”

Doolittle looked like he was in a groove after the delays, retiring the Cubs three up and three down.

“I actually have to thank him,” Doolittle said, referring to Maddon. “After they came out the second time, the Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to Bryant, and those are probably the best ones I’ve thrown in a while. I don’t do the tap when there’s somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I’ve had a lot of traffic recently, so I’ve had practice doing it. So, it wasn’t like a huge adjustment to me and, I don’t know, in a way I kind of need to thank him.”

Nats manager Davey Martinez shied away from addressing the dispute.

“You know, I’m not going to make any comment on it,” Martinez said. “He protested the game, obviously. But we’ll let the umpires handle that stuff. In my eyes, Doo was Doo. Strasburg was unbelievable. We won. The boys played well.

“That little hesitation, which really, for me, as long as your fluid to home, it’s no big deal.”

The Nats were able to hit well against Cubs starter Jon Lester early on. Dozier smacked a solo homer leading off the second inning. Kendrick and Soto cranked out back-to-back run-scoring doubles in the second inning, combining for three RBIs.

Soto added an RBI single in the fifth to send Lester to the showers and extend the Nats’ lead to 5-1.

Strasburg relied on his fastball to get off to a quick start, retiring the first nine batters he faced. He struck out the side to end the third inning. Chicago scored a run in the fifth on two singles and two passed balls that got by Yan Gomes. A quick play by Anthony Rendon prevented a second run. He retrieved the ball as it ricocheted to him and fired home, allowing Gomes to tag out a sliding Addison Russell to end he rally. David Bote hit a solo homer in the sixth.

“They’re a very aggressive team and they can do a lot of damage quickly,” Strasburg noted. “But at the same time, you can’t really focus on whether or not they’re swinging. Still make good pitches, and you got a defense behind you.”

Strasburg kept his pitch count low, allowing the right-hander to pitch into the eighth. He had only 80 pitches through seven innings, averaging 11.4 pitches per frame. He finished with 93 pitches, 69 for strikes, over eight innings. It was the second time this season he got through eight innings, matching a 5-0 win on April 21 at Miami. Strasburg allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts to improve to 4-3.

“Can’t really look that far ahead,” Strasburg said of monitoring his pitch count. “I think it’s important that you focus on the now and you focus on that one pitch that you got to make. You go as long as you can until Davey (Martinez) takes the ball out of my hand.”

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