WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Stephen Strasburg made his season debut on Tuesday night, but the Nationals ended up losing to the Dodgers, 7-3, at Nationals Park.
The score was tied at three when Los Angeles took the lead in the eighth inning off reliever Henry Rodriguez. With runners on first and second and two outs, Rod Barajas doubled near the left-field line scoring Andre Ethier and Aaron Miles.
Yunesky Maya pitched the ninth inning for Washington and allowed a two-run double to Ethier which closed out the Dodgers' scoring.
The Nationals had a chance to at least tie the score in the bottom of the ninth inning off reliever Javy Guerra, when they loaded the bases with one out. Guerra, however, managed to strike out Michael Morse and get Corey Brown to fly out to end the game.
After the game, all the talk was about Strasburg. A year and three days after his elbow was surgically repaired, Strasburg pitched like he always has -- like the ace of the Nationals.
He was scheduled to pitch four innings, but ended up throwing five shutout innings and allowed two hits before leaving the game with a 3-0 lead. He struck out four hitters and walked none. He averaged 11.2 pitches per inning and threw 56 pitches, 40 strikes.
"It just worked out that way," Strasburg said. "It really is a mindset. Guys don't want to get to two strikes, so you have to make quality pitches early in the count, try to get them to put the ball in play. Weak contact and get quick outs."
Strasburg's fastball was clocked as high as 99 mph, and that occurred in the second inning when he struck out Aaron Miles.
"I guess you take a sigh of relief after you get a guy [out of the game] because of the pitch count and get a chance to face guys you're a little more familiar with," Ethier said. "[Strasburg] definitely lives up to the hype. He has great stuff. He commands all his pitches and hits his spots. When you hit spots with the stuff he has, it [makes] it tough. You can't miss your pitch. If you do, you'll find yourself on the bench real quick."
Strasburg was never in any serious trouble in the game. The only time the Dodgers had runners in scoring position was in the first inning, when Dee Gordon led off the frame with a double. However, Gordon would be left stranded at third.
After the Gordon hit, Strasburg retired 11 straight hitters before allowing a single to Juan Rivera.
"He was outstanding," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He looked totally relaxed, in control. He had all his pitches working. He made it look easy. He had a real low pitch count. He looked strong in the end. He made it easy going five innings with the rain coming, so it was a pretty easy hook."
There was a possibility that Strasburg wouldn't have been able to pitch, because the forecast called for heavy rain. Strasburg would have been scratched if the rain came down by game time. Right-hander Brad Peacock would have received the start instead. If the game had been postponed, Strasburg would have pitched Game 1 of a day/night doubleheader on Wednesday.
But by 6:55 p.m. ET, however, Strasburg was warming up on the outfield grass and warmed up in the bullpen before the game started.
"I knew there would be an opening. I didn't know what the opening was going to be, so I was hoping to go out there. Luckily enough, I was able to start," Strasburg said.
Strasburg looked just as good in his season debut as he did on his Major League debut on June 8 of last year.
"The game was like it was in slow motion out there," Strasburg said about Tuesday's outing. "I think from where it felt like in the debut last year, I felt like I kind have been through it before. So I was definitely a lot more relaxed out there. I was trying to execute pitches and get guys out."
Strasburg even played a role on offense as the Nationals scored three runs in the second inning off left-hander Ted Lilly. The score was 1-0 when Strasburg came to the plate with a runner on second. He bunted the ball down the third-base line and Lilly threw the ball past second baseman Justin Sellers covering first for a two-base error, allowing Wilson Ramos to score. Strasburg would later scored on a groundout by Jayson Werth.
But the Dodgers would come back tie the score after Strasburg's exit, in the top of the sixth inning.
With runners on first and second with no outs, left-hander Doug Slaten struck out James Loney for the first out of the inning. Johnson then decided to bring in Peacock to make his Major League debut. It was an outing Peacock would probably rather forget. He allowed an infield single to Matt Kemp, scoring Jamey Carroll.
After Rivera walked to load the bases, Ethier drove in two runs with a single center field to tie the score.
Before the game, Johnson said he was not going to bring in Peacock in the middle of an inning. With the rain expected arrive, Johnson didn't want to Peacock to rush and warm up. Instead, Slaten came in the game, which allowed Peacock to have a full warmup.
"Unfortunately, I had to bring him in to face the right-hander [Kemp] and it happens to be one of the best hitters in the league," Johnson said. "[Peacock] actually made a good pitch. ... It was a hard-hit ball, but I thought he handled it very well. He handled adversity, stayed right with them, got back out and threw the ball well the next inning."
Although the Nationals lost, Strasburg gave them an outing they will never forget. A quality one.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.