“Him being wild, I talked to [McCatty] and said ‘Will you talk to him? Because he doesn’t look right to me,’” Johnson said. “He was still throwing the ball real hard, but I told him when he went out for the sixth, get him out of this and I’ll get him out of there and get you a win.”
Strasburg finally hit a groove in the sixth. He struck out all three batters of the inning on 13 pitches, the only time in the game he retired the Braves in order. He blew two 97-mph fastballs past B.J. Upton and jogged off the mound.
But Johnson didn’t want Strasburg to throw any more. He was worried about his pitcher’s arm even though Strasburg didn’t complain of it. He fired 53 strikes and 40 balls. He allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in each of the first five innings. Yet he allowed only two runs over six innings.
The Nationals could have given Strasburg more run support but failed against the rookie Teheran. LaRoche, the team’s slumping first baseman, led off the second with a single, his first hit in 27 at-bats. It was the first of four straight singles, which netted two runs.
But the Nationals couldn’t score any more. Two base-running mistakes hurt them. In all, they stranded six runners, grounded into a double play and went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position. In Strasburg’s starts this season, the Nationals have scored only 1.83 runs per game, by far the worst run support of his career.
After Strasburg left the game, Clippard coughed up the winning difference.
“It’s one of those things, I’ve got all the confidence in the world that runner is not moving off of first,” Clippard said of trying to recover from the leadoff walk to Laird. “I was just really up in the zone tonight and wasn’t able to execute to stop them from scoring.”
The Nationals were dealt another blow in the eighth when Jayson Werth exited the game, after fouling a ball off his left ankle, because of lingering cramping in his hamstring.
It is too early in the season for hand-wringing over another loss to the Braves. But the Nationals wanted to enact a small measure of revenge of their toughest division rival. Instead, discomfort in the arm of their prized starter darkened the cloud over the loss.