Nationals give Stephen Strasburg no help, again, in 5-0 loss to Braves

In his fifth major league start, Washington's Stephen Strasburg allows three earned runs on six hits with two walks while striking out seven in 61/3 innings.
In his fifth major league start, Washington's Stephen Strasburg allows three earned runs on six hits with two walks while striking out seven in 61/3 innings. (Kevin C. Cox/getty Images)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ATLANTA -- Stephen Strasburg's dominance gives losing a degree of difficulty, but his Washington Nationals teammates have sunk to the challenge. In five starts, Strasburg has strung together perhaps the finest beginning ever to a starting pitcher's career. The Nationals, during a descent toward the wretched baseball that defined them for two years, have won two of those games.

The Nationals offered Strasburg no offensive support Monday night in a 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves, but they had done that before. This time, they could not even get out of his way. Shortstop Ian Desmond botched a routine double-play groundball in the seventh, which led directly to the game's only runs, their fifth straight defeat and Strasburg's tragicomic demise. The 42,889 at Turner Field -- 21,608 of which bought tickets in the previous five days -- actually chanted "Over-rated!"

"Not good enough to win the game," Strasburg said. "Period."

Strasburg allowed three (technically) earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings. His ERA rose to 2.27 and his strikeout total for the year shot to 48, third-most all time in a pitcher's first five starts. During one stretch, Strasburg struck out a batter, induced a double play, and then struck out five straight Braves. Before the game, Braves Manager Bobby Cox called him "a Hall of Famer in the making."

"He's special," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "You've seen 100 mile per hour fastballs. You've seen dominant curveballs, unbelievable change-ups. What's amazing is the fact he throws 100 and still has the feel to throw two other pitches for strikes any time he wants, any time in the count. This is the complete package."

Strasburg's brilliance stood in contrast to his teammates. For the second straight start, the Nationals scored zero runs in support of Strasburg. Braves starter Tim Hudson shut them out for seven innings, and only Roger Bernadina, who did it twice, made it past first base against him. Strasburg has allowed only five earned runs in his past three starts, but the Nationals have scored only one run in those games and lost all three.

"The biggest challenge for me is, I just got to remind myself what the goal is and what the team needs me to do," Strasburg said. "The team needs me to go out there and keep the team within striking distance. There's going to be games when we end up not scoring those runs. We're trying to get back together as a team collectively."

Strasburg has proved his mental strength in handling unprecedented hype placed on him. Losing despite strong performances is unlikely to shake him.

"I don't think he gauges his success and failures on his win-loss record," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "I know I look deeper into it. I think when he pitches well in the future, we're going to win those games. He's everything I dreamed of."

Before the game, following a ghastly three-game sweep in Baltimore, Manager Jim Riggleman called a team meeting. He affirmed comments Rizzo made Sunday afternoon when he vowed the team would not tolerate more substandard defense.

In the seventh, their defense struck again. Strasburg had cruised for six innings and entered with 73 pitches -- "I thought he might go eight" innings for the first time, Riggleman said. Strasburg had grounded out and sprinted to first to make the last out of the sixth. He walked Jones on four pitches and allowed Brian McCann a smash up the middle for a single, putting two on with no outs.

"He looked tired to me," Jones said. "He just had that tired look. But he's a competitor."

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