Strasburg leaves with early injury, Nats fall to Giants in opener

A sellout crowd of 41,591, the vast majority wearing red and more boisterous than usual thanks to the good vibes still permeating through the city after Thursday night’s Stanley Cup celebration, filed into Nationals Park this evening ready to celebrate the local baseball team.

Two innings in, that crowd was murmuring and lamenting an all-too-familiar sight from this town’s pre-championship days: the early departure of a star player due to injury.

Strasburg-Throwing-Red-Sidebar.jpgStephen Strasburg lasted only two innings, looking uncomfortable as he allowed three quick runs and exiting with an undisclosed ailment. The remaining details of the Nationals’ 9-5 loss to the Giants felt far less significant than whatever news awaited on Strasburg.

Though his velocity was within his normal range, Strasburg didn’t look comfortable in either of his two innings on the mound. And even if he did, the results certainly suggested something was wrong.

Five of the 10 batters Strasburg faced recorded hits, three of them for extra bases (Andrew McCutchen’s homer, doubles by Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence). And when the top of the second ended, Strasburg had a long conversation in the dugout with manager Davey Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who then called down to the bullpen to get somebody warming.

It was Shawn Kelley who wound up emerging to pitch the top of third, as the large crowd wondered what was up with Strasburg. (The Nationals do not provide in-game injury updates.)

Depending of the severity of the ailment, the Nats may need to promote at least one replacement starter from their farm system, most likely Erick Fedde or Jefry Rodriguez. No. 5 starter Jeremy Hellickson already resides on the 10-day disabled list with a hamstring strain, but the club was in a position to make it until June 19 with only a four-man rotation thanks to off-days.

Strasburg’s early departure didn’t merely leave the Nationals in a 3-0 hole. It also left the bullpen facing yet another long night. For the third time in five games (over seven days), Nats relievers were asked to pitch at least seven innings.

And though that group was fresh coming into this one, it was not effective as a whole. Though Kelley and Justin Miller each turned in scoreless innings, Wander Suero and Brandon Kintzler could not prevent the Giants from adding on.

Suero gave up a two-run homer to Gorkys Hernández in the fourth, then an RBI double to Brandon Crawford in the fifth. Kintzler retired only one of the five batters he faced in the seventh, an inning that saw three more runs cross the plate and kill whatever positive momentum the Nationals created in a slow-but-sure rally across the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

Juan Soto’s latest home run off a left-hander (his third in the big leagues) got the Nats on the board in the fourth. Bryce Harper’s bases-loaded single in the fifth brought home two more runs. And Matt Adams’ pinch-hit single in the sixth plated another, trimming the deficit at that point to 6-5.

That deficit immediately swelled to 9-5, though, after Kintzler labored upon taking the mound for the seventh.

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