Strasburg overcomes walks to beat Tribe
Nats back phenom, who fans eight, but issues five free passes
CLEVELAND -- It's safe to call right-hander Stephen Strasburg the stopper. He helped the Nationals end a modest two-game losing streak and defeat the Indians, 9-4, in front of 32,976 at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon.
First baseman Adam Dunn didn't hesitate to give Strasburg the title and credit him for putting fans in the seats.
"The whole thing that is different is the crowd," Dunn said. "It's a lot easier to play in a packed house than playing like it's a Spring Training game. He puts people in the seats. He gives us a great chance to win, and he is going to do that every single time out. That's all you could ask for."
It was Strasburg's second Major League start, and he picked up right where he left off in his debut before faltering in the sixth inning.
Strasburg struck out eight batters while allowing just two hits, including a solo home run by Travis Hafner, but he walked five of the last 12 batters he faced -- several while experiencing issues with the mound -- and exited with the bases loaded and a 6-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The game had to be delayed twice -- in the fifth and sixth innings -- because he was slipping on the mound. In fact, Ivan Rodriguez was the first to tell home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora that Strasburg was having problems starting in the second inning. O'Nora asked Strasburg if that was the case, and the rookie said he was fine.
However, before the fifth started, Strasburg acknowledged to O'Nora that the mound had to be fixed. An inning later, the Indians grounds crew came and fixed the mound. No other pitcher who threw on Sunday had problems.
O'Nora said Strasburg's long stride on the mound was the reason he had problems. The 6-foot-4 rookie's right foot often landed on the end of the pitcher's mound.
"He has such a long stride," O'Nora said. "I bet you it [was a lot] compared to the Indians. It's almost down to the end [of the mound]."
"I was just slipping a little bit, but there are going to be games like that," Strasburg said. "I was on the mound like that in college. I wasn't able to make the adjustments that I needed to do.
"I wish I could have handled it a little bit better. It kind of got me in a little funk. But it's good to experience this now. Those are the little things I'm trying to learn and I'm trying to improve on, to where if it happens again, I will make the right adjustment."
After Strasburg left with the bases loaded, right-hander Drew Storen came on to bail him out of the jam, getting Russell Branyan to pop up into shallow right field before striking out Jhonny Peralta to end the threat. For the season, Storen has entered the game with 12 inherited baserunners, and none have scored.
"I enjoy those tight spots. I'm just glad I was able to get out of there with minimal damage," said Storen, who couldn't preserve two no-hitters for Strasburg while both were in the Minor Leagues. "Hopefully, that's the first of many to come."
Strasburg's final line was 5 1/3 innings pitched, one earned run, two hits, five walks and eight strikeouts.
"I thought Stephen was fine," manager Jim Riggleman said. "The first three or four innings, he was outstanding. He had all of his pitches going -- again striking people out. I'm sure it was a challenge for the Indians' hitters and took some pitches that resulted in walks and a rally. We were fortunate that Storen was able to come in and shut it down.
In fact, shortstop Ian Desmond called Storen the true stopper of Sunday's game.
"It was one-out, bases-loaded. ... He comes in, gets two outs and Strasburg's game is saved," Desmond said. "If Storen comes in and gives up a grand slam, three of those runs are Strasburg's. He would have given up four runs on the day in six innings and nobody would be saying that much. So you have to give our ballclub credit. It's not just Strasburg."
But it was Strasburg who received the most attention.
In the first inning, Strasburg struck out Trevor Crowe swinging on a pitch that was clocked at 100 mph, and Shin-Soo Choo followed and struck out swinging on a fastball at 99 mph. Carlos Santana then lined out to left fielder Josh Willingham to end the inning. The third out ended a streak of nine straight strikeouts for Strasburg.
Strasburg was given a 1-0 lead, when in the top of the second inning, Mike Morse hit an RBI single off left-hander David Huff.
However, Travis Hafner tied the score for Cleveland, when he led off the bottom of the inning and homered over the right-field wall. It was the second home run Strasburg has allowed this season.
After that, Austin Kearns flied out, Branyan struck out and Peralta struck out looking.
In the bottom of the third inning, Strasburg threw just eight pitches. Peralta and Luis Valbuena grounded out to Adam Dunn, while Crowe grounded out to second baseman Cristian Guzman.
In the top of the fourth, Dunn put Strasburg in the lead with a solo homer, his 14th home run of the season and fourth in his past six games. He also homered in Strasburg's debut.
Strasburg struck out Choo on three pitches to start the bottom of the fourth before issuing consecutive walks -- his first in the big leagues -- to Santana and Hafner. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Strasburg's 19 strikeouts before issuing his first Major League walk were the second most since 1990. Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto struck out 22 before issuing a walk in 2008.
Strasburg escaped any damage in the inning by whiffing Kearns and Branyan to strike out the side. He then worked around a two-out walk in the fifth, notching his eighth strikeout in the process.
The Nationals cushioned the lead with four runs in the top of the sixth, as Pudge Rodriguez belted a two-run double and Desmond added a two-run triple.
"After I got those two outs, I started rushing toward home plate," Huff said. "My location was just off. In any situation like that, I need to slow it down and get back after it."
After retiring Choo to start the bottom half of the frame, Strasburg allowed a bloop single to right off the bat of Santana, and then walked Hafner and Kearns to load the bases. He was lifted in favor of Storen after throwing 95 pitches -- 52 for strikes.
Opposing hitters are 0-for-25 against Strasburg when having two strikes against them.
The Nationals added to their lead by scoring three runs in the top of the eighth inning. Roger Bernadina highlighted the scoring with a two-run homer off reliever Tony Sipp.
The Indians made the game interesting by scoring three runs off Miguel Batista in the bottom of the ninth inning. Choo highlighted the scoring with a two-run single.
"We put up 16 hits, we put nine runs, we played good solid defense. We made the plays we had to make, and the bullpen came and dealt with it," Desmond said. "Strasburg did a great job, not to take anything away from him. The rest of us are playing hard, too. Everything is going good right now."