“When that play is executed right, it’s pretty much unstoppable,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “The way he put the bunt down right there, nobody was going to get that guy.”
Strasburg cruised for five innings, including an eight-pitch first. He allowed three hits and walked one. Ian Desmond bashed his 13th homer of the year in the fourth inning, smashing Corbin’s 2-2 slider into the left field bullpen to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead. The Nationals could be forgiven for not scoring again off Corbin, who ranks fourth in the NL with a 2.22 ERA.
Strasburg appeared ready to make it hold up, but in the sixth, he ran headlong into turbulence.
Corbin, hitting .121, whacked a single into left field. Gerrardo Parra ran into a ball that he had bunted, which gave Strasburg one out. Aaron Hill then blasted a 1-0 fastball into the left field bullpen, next to some celebrating Arizona relievers. Hill had been a pest all series, and now he had tied the score, 2-2.
Strasburg escaped the inning without further damage. But after a single, a walk and a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty, his pitch count rose to 102. Johnson faced a decision.
Because of a brief stay on the disabled list and the Nationals’ careful handling since he returned, Strasburg had not thrown more than 95 pitches since May 26. After the Nationals pulled Strasburg from his last start, he said, “I’m not a kid anymore.” He wants to stay out there. And Thursday, Johnson let him.
“I’m kind of past going six innings,” Strasburg said. “I want to get used to going seven, eight or hopefully nine someday. But, yeah, I was definitely happy with that.”
Strasburg carved through the bottom of the Diamondbacks’ order in 11 pitches, buckling Corbin with a change-up for his fourth strikeout with his 113th and final pitch.
Strasburg left with the score tied, again with little run support. The Nationals have averaged 2.7 runs in games he started, the fewest of any starter in the majors. Strasburg’s ERA settled at 2.41, and his record stayed 4-6.
“It’s making me a better pitcher,” Strasburg said. “I’ve learned a lot already. The one thing I’ve learned is, you can’t go out and try to do too much. You can’t go out there and try to pitch to the scoreboard. Once you do that, you’re done.”
Strasburg kept the Nationals in the game, and scoreless relief innings from Ian Krol, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano gave the Nationals’ offense more chances. They had won a series, at least, but they’ll head to New York still trying to separate themselves from treading water.