Bass bests Strasburg as Friars take DC finale

Bass bests Strasburg as Friars take DC finale

Bass bests Strasburg as Friars take DC finale
WASHINGTON -- The longest, and easily the strangest, plate appearance of John Baker's professional career actually evolved into his most significant turn to hit in his first six weeks with the Padres.

Before it did, though, Baker had to sit and think about it. For eight minutes, to be exact.

Well into his first-inning at-bat against Nationals fireballer Stephen Strasburg, Baker had to take a seat in the visiting dugout at Nationals Park when a rain delay, lasting all of eight minutes, brought the inning and the game to an abrupt halt.

"I kept my helmet on and my gloves on, because it looked like the rain was starting to lighten up," Baker said. "I have a lot of experience with rain, having played for the Marlins. My college coach once told me, 'When it starts to rain like that, a lot of guys don't want to be out there.'

"But I told myself that this is exactly where I wanted to be, facing a guy like [Strasburg]. I said, 'Bring it on.'"

When play resumed, Baker got enough of a fastball, rolling it through the soggy infield grass and into the outfield for a two-run single that prolonged the inning and agony for Strasburg as the Padres went on to score three runs on their way to a 6-1 victory on Tuesday before a crowd of 23,902.

Baker had three hits, and teammate Will Venable tied his career high with four hits, as he missed hitting for the first cycle in club history by a home run. But all hitting aside, this game was more about pitching -- though it probably wasn't quite what many expected.

For the Padres (13-24), a team that has already defeated Roy Halladay of the Phillies twice, it was another day to take down a giant, with the focus quickly diverting from one hard-throwing young right-handed pitcher (Strasburg) to another, San Diego's Anthony Bass.

"Outstanding," Padres manager Bud Black said. "And with great efficiency. It's something we talked about, and it doesn't happen overnight. But I think he understands the value of attacking hitters. Now, we're seeing more of a pitcher, a guy changing speeds, moving the ball in and out."

Bass (2-4) needed 93 pitches to get through eight innings, tempting his manager for a shot to leave him in for the ninth inning. Instead, Bass finished the day with one run allowed on five hits -- including a solo home run to Bryce Harper -- with one walk and seven strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 2.87.

"He threw a lot of quality strikes. He throws hard, decent breaking ball, would go upstairs when he had to," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "Good looking young pitcher. I thought we had him kind of on the ropes a couple times, but just couldn't get the hit."

Johnson has gotten used to heaping this kind of praise on Strasburg (3-1), who had allowed three runs in a start once in 2012. Strasburg, who played at San Diego State for former Padres great and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, needed 39 pitches to get through the first inning, and was gone after four innings, having allowed four runs on seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts.

The first inning, all agreed afterward, was the key.

The game certainly started on an ominous note for the Nationals (22-14) when Venable, hitting leadoff, dumped a pitch into left field as three defenders -- left fielder Roger Bernadina, shortstop Ian Desmond and center fielder Rick Ankiel -- had a communication issue, with the ball landing untouched and Venable awarded a double.

Two batters later, and after Chase Headley walked, Yonder Alonso singled to right field for a run. After getting Orlando Hudson to ground out, Strasburg walked James Darnell -- who would later hit a home run. That brought up Baker, the Padres' first-year reserve catcher, who already had enough on his plate trying to focus on calling a game and catching Bass for the first time.

Midway through Baker's at-bat, the rain started to fall. Finally, play was halted and the players retreated to their respective dugouts. They didn't stay there long, as eight minutes later, play resumed with Baker's two-run single up the middle to make it 3-0.

"[The double by Venable] was a break, and we took advantage of it," 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."

From there, the only real drama for the Padres was how long Bass would work, and if Venable -- who had a double, a triple and a single by the fourth inning -- would hit for the cycle.

Bass held up his end, and even when he was stressed, like in the sixth inning when the Nationals got two hits to open the inning, the 24-year-old remained cool, striking out Bernadina on a slider before getting Ryan Zimmerman to bounce into a double play to end the inning.

"He's one of my favorite guys to watch," said Darnell, who started in left field and played with Bass at several stops in the Minor Leagues. "He's got electric stuff, the same he had before when we played together, but he's really pitching smarter now and making pitches. It's cool to see his development."

As for Venable, he struck out in the sixth inning but singled and drove in a run in his final at-bat in the eighth inning. History, it seems, will have to wait.

"The only thought I had about it was I wasn't going to try and hit a home run," Venable said. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen by accident."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.