Stephen Strasburg, more often than not, has pitched deep into games this season and at worst given the Nationals a good chance to win. The Nats lineup, more often than not, has battled late even when trailing and at worst brought the tying run to the plate and given the team a good chance to win.
When neither of those regular developments occurred this afternoon on South Capitol Street, the end result was the ugliest, least-inspiring loss this team has suffered in a while.
With four early home runs off Strasburg and then tack-on runs when the Nationals couldn’t produce their own rally, the Diamondbacks coasted to a 10-3 triumph for their second win in three days against a Nats club that needed to get this long homestand off to a far better start than this.
It’ll take victory in Sunday’s series finale to salvage a four-game split, this in front of a huge seven-game stretch next week against the Phillies and Braves that could make or break this team’s chances of getting itself back in the thick of the National League East race instead of remaining on the periphery as the midway point of the season fast approaches.
“You always want to win, especially win the series,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Tomorrow’s no different. Tomorrow, like I’ve said every day, we can come back tomorrow and go 1-0. Can’t do nothing about today. Today’s over.”
Today was over in relatively quick fashion because Strasburg dug the Nationals into an early hole and only made things worse as his laborious outing continued. Even so, the Nats were still within striking distance, down three runs from the fourth through the seventh innings and still had a chance to rally and turn this game around.
But a lineup that scored three first-inning runs off Ashburn native Taylor Clarke went silent the rest of the way. And when Kyle Barraclough gave up three runs in the eighth and Trevor Rosenthal gave up another in the ninth, this game was no longer within reach.
“No matter if it was today or another day, I think we know we are capable of scoring every inning,” first baseman Matt Adams said. “But (Clarke) settled in and started to make some pitches, and we hit some balls right at their guys.”
Many in the sellout crowd of 38,044 on Star Wars Day hadn’t yet taken a seat when Ketel Marte launched Strasburg’s very first pitch into the right field bullpen for a quick 1-0 Arizona lead. Three batters later, Adam Jones took Strasburg deep to left for a 2-0 lead as the ballpark murmured in disappointment.
“I think when you make mistakes here in the big leagues, you give them a much better chance to barrel it,” the right-hander said. “And they barreled it.”
The ball was flying all over Southeast Washington today, so the Nationals immediately made up for Strasburg’s ugly top of the first with a big power surge in the bottom of the inning. After Trea Turner led off with a triple and scored on Adam Eaton’s sacrifice fly, Juan Soto and Adams went back-to-back against Broad Run High School alum Clarke, Adams’ 409-foot rocket to right landing in the second deck.
Handed a surprise 3-2 lead, Strasburg had new hope for turning his start around. But those hopes were immediately dashed when the right-hander opened the top of the second by surrendering a homer to Christian Walker, a triple to Nick Ahmed and an RBI single to Carson Kelly.
The lead was gone. Three of the Diamondbacks’ first six batters had homered. And they weren’t done.
Arizona parlayed three straight singles into another run in the top of the third, then watched as Marte clubbed his second homer of the afternoon to extend the lead to 6-3 in the fourth. It marked only the second time Strasburg had given up four home runs in a start, a feat previously accomplished only by the Braves on Aug. 8, 2014.
The nine hits the D-backs compiled, meanwhile, were one shy of Strasburg’s career high, the most since an Aug. 17, 2016 disaster at Coors Field that ultimately landed the pitcher on the injured list with a strained flexor mass in his elbow.
“When he’s really good, he mixes in all his pitches,” Martinez said. “Today I think he was trying to find that fastball, that location, and it just wasn’t there.”
Strasburg, who entered with 7-3 record and 3.36 ERA, has offered no evidence that anything is physically wrong with him right now. If that’s indeed the case, he’ll still need to figure out what went wrong today and right his ship before he takes the mound Thursday for a more important start against the Phillies.
“You go with what you have during the game, obviously, and you just keep pounding away,” he said. “I did the best I could with what I had today, but I need to make some adjustments, obviously.”