WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Stephen Strasburg faced his hometown team, the Padres, for the first time in his career on Tuesday afternoon. It turned out to be one of the worst outings of his career as the Nationals lost to the Padres, 6-1, at Nationals Park.
Strasburg was in trouble from the beginning, as the Padres scored three runs in the first inning. Will Venable hit a routine fly ball to shallow left field to lead off the game. But left fielder Roger Bernadina and center fielder Rick Ankiel let the ball drop between them for a double.
"I should have caught that ball," said Bernadina, who said there wasn't any lack of communication between the two outfielders. "The ball kind of headed back toward my side. Like I said, I should have caught it."
Said manager Davey Johnson, "When you start a game like that, it changes the momentum. It gives them extra life. It started badly and it kept going that way."
It would get worse for Strasburg. It started raining, and Strasburg had serious problems gripping the baseball. He ended up throwing 39 pitches in the first inning. John Baker highlighted the scoring he hit a two-run single with the bases loaded after an eight-minute rain delay.
"[The double by Venable] was a break, and we took advantage of it," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The hit by Baker was huge because it drove Strasburg's pitch count up. Our guys knew coming in they were in for a tough one. [Strasburg] was throwing the ball well, had good velocity. I think the key was we laid off some borderline pitches and didn't expand the strike zone. That's how you beat good pitching."
Strasburg declined to blame the elements or the non-catch for his disappointing outing.
"It's part of baseball," Strasburg said. "Sometimes, it's not going to be your day. Things are not going to go your way. Bloop hits go for them and hard shots didn't fall for us.
"As far as the rain, it's tough with them calling it when the count is 3-2 with the bases loaded. Obviously, you have to throw a fastball over the plate. They got a ground ball, they just hit it through the hole, so it's baseball. It's going to happen. ... It was tough conditions all around. But I'm not one to make excuses. It's just one of those games where you go out there and do your best to overcome the obstacles. Sometimes, you can't get out of it the way you want to."
Johnson also said Strasburg was uncomfortable on the mound because he got "Hot Stuff" ointment on the wrong part of his body. Strasburg, who appeared fidgety in the first inning because of the ointment, declined to talk about it.
"Yeah, let's keep that in the clubhouse," Strasburg said.
"Somehow it got in the wrong place," Johnson said. "I don't know all the details. Not an ideal way to start -- all kinds of little things going against us."
In the third inning, James Darnell hit an 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall for his first homer of the season.
Strasburg would pitch a season-low four innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. He threw 81 pitches in the game.
Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny replaced Strasburg in the fifth inning and allowed an RBI single to Baker to make it a 5-0 game.
The only highlight for the Nationals occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Bryce Harper hit a 1-0 pitch from right-hander Anthony Bass over the right-center-field wall for a solo homer. It was Harper's second home run in as many games.
Bass ended up pitching eight innings and allowing just the one run on five hits.
"He threw a lot of quality strikes," Johnson said about Bass. "He throws hard. He had a decent breaking ball. He went upstairs when he had to. He is a good looking young pitcher. I thought we had him on the ropes a couple of times, but we couldn't get the hit."
Reliever Ryan Perry allowed an RBI single to Venable, who ended up with four hits in the game, finishing a homer shy of the cycle.
With the loss, the Nationals dropped their record to 22-14.
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.