Strasburg’s one mistake costs Nats on night Braves made none

ATLANTA - Stephen Strasburg felt like he made only one mistake, a curveball down in the zone but over the plate to Dansby Swanson with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Thumbnail image for Strasburg grey.jpgThen again, one mistake was all it took for the Nationals to drop tonight’s game to the Braves, who rode a two-hit shutout from Mike Foltynewicz to a 4-0 victory and a second straight win to begin this weekend’s National League East showdown.

“We couldn’t get nothing going,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Our guy was good, too. He made one mistake, and he knew it. But overall, we just couldn’t get nothing going. Mike was good.”

Martinez didn’t even bother trying to pronounce the Atlanta right-hander’s last name - for the record, it’s “ful-ta-NEV-ich” - but he went out of his way to praise him for the best pitching performance folks around here had seen in a long time.

The last Braves pitcher to toss a two-hitter with 10 or more strikeouts? A guy by the name of Greg Maddux, who did it on May 2, 2001. Foltynewicz can’t come to close to comparing to the Hall of Famer whose number 31 hangs on the left field façade at SunTrust Park, but he does have an upper-90s fastball and sharp breaking stuff, which he used to perfection tonight.

Nationals first baseman Matt Adams played with Foltynewicz last summer and had six prior plate appearances against him and came away with a positive impression. But he hadn’t seen him pitch this well before.

“Not to that level,” Adams said. “He had everything working tonight. He was committed to both sides of the plate. He had a feel for all his pitches.”

Adams, like five of his teammates, couldn’t even get the ball out of the infield against Foltynewicz. Two others managed to record measly singles (Bryce Harper in the first inning, Trea Turner in the ninth). One managed to draw a walk (Juan Soto in the eighth).

Thus the Nationals were shut out only 24 hours after they were held to two early runs in a 4-2 loss to the Braves. All told, they’ve been held scoreless on four hits and one walk over their last 13 offensive innings.

“They pitched well,” said Martinez, whose club came to town having won six in a row. “We can come out tomorrow and who knows, we can score 10 runs with our lineup.”

The Nationals wouldn’t mind giving their own starter some support after failing to do so in the first two games of this series. They asked Strasburg to be sensational tonight, and the right-hander nearly was for six innings, matching Foltynewicz and carrying a shutout of his own into the seventh.

But then everything unraveled in short order, some of it Strasburg’s fault, some of it not.

Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki led the inning off with back-to-back singles, putting runners on the corners and forcing the Nats to play their infield halfway in for a potential play at the plate. And when Strasburg got Johan Camargo to hit a chopper to first base, it looked like they might just get their wish.

But Adams, who would’ve needed to make a perfect play and throw to get Markakis, never got the ball securely in his glove. It kicked away, and everybody was safe, with the Braves taking a 1-0 lead.

“Just a do-or-die play,” said Adams, who was charged with an error. “A slow roller, I tried to come in and field it. I just didn’t get it done. It’s a play I’ve made before, so it’s kind of eating at me a little bit. But it is what it is.”

The one-run deficit might have at least given the Nationals a glimmer of hope. But moments later, the deficit had ballooned into four runs after Swanson hammered the aforementioned curveball from Strasburg into the left field bullpen, sending the crowd of 33,845 into a frenzy.

“That’s part of being human,” Strasburg said. “That’s part of baseball. I think I just have to focus on all the good pitches I made. They capitalized on one mistake.”

Only two batters later, Strasburg was crouched over on the mound, his glove off, shaking his left hand in some discomfort. Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard immediately came out to check on him, and though Strasburg insisted it was only a cramp and he could continue, Martinez decided not to take any chances.

“He had 107 pitches at that point, so I said: ‘Hey, you’re good, you did really well,’” the manager said. “He didn’t want to come out. I said: ‘Let’s get you out, and I’ll get you ready for your next start.”

“It’s happened before,” said Strasburg, who suffered his first loss in his last six starts in Atlanta. “It’s obviously humid out there. I think it’s something related to dehydration. It just tightened up on me.”

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