Strasburg struggles, can't stop Nationals' slide

Strasburg struggles, can't stop Nationals' slide

Strasburg struggles, can't stop Nationals' slide
MIAMI -- As Stephen Strasburg's dominance of the Marlins came to an end, the Nationals' losing streak stretched on.

Strasburg entered Tuesday's game with 27 consecutive scoreless innings against Miami, but he gave up a career-high seven runs -- five earned -- in five innings. The Nationals' lineup, complete once again with Ian Desmond and Michael Morse back, was silenced by Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco. And Washington lost for a season-high-tying fifth straight time, falling, 9-0, at Marlins Park.

The Nationals have managed to scratch across only six runs during this five-game losing streak, and could muster only five hits against Nolasco, who tossed his third career shutout. While Nolasco was frustrating Nationals hitters all night, Strasburg frustrated himself with his sudden inability to play the role of stopper.

"It is, but it's tough because you want to go out there and do it every time. But I'm sure there's not a pitcher in the history of baseball who's gone out there and [dominated] every single time," Strasburg said. "I wanted to go out there and give it everything I had, which I thought I did. I struggled for pretty much the whole game, and it's a big learning experience for me. I think I learned a lot from tonight. We've got to flush it and we've got to get back to playing our style of baseball."

Strasburg allowed nine hits and struck out only three after one of his most impressive performances of the year against the Braves, and there was no confusing that pitcher with the one on the mound in Miami. The Marlins went looking for his fastball inside, took it to the opposite field and made him pay when he refused to change his game plan.

"I just think maybe we came out locked in," Marlins center fielder Justin Ruggiano said. "Maybe he's just over there tipping his cap to us right now, because I think we all just had a good approach against him."

Strasburg immediately stumbled in the first inning, when Ruggiano launched a first-pitch fastball to left-center field. Strasburg had made 16 straight starts before Tuesday without allowing a first-inning run. He gave up another on a Carlos Lee double and Giancarlo Stanton's RBI single, allowing two runs in the first inning for the first time since May 15.

Strasburg got hit around in the third, allowing the first five batters he faced to get on base, and surrendered three runs. He allowed Lee to steal second base without a throw, continuing the Nationals' season-long woes of holding baserunners.

"I was focused on just trying to get back on track, and I mean, I've got to do better than that," Strasburg said. "I think it's something we as a team and as a pitching staff have struggled with, and I think I've got to remember there's a guy on base and I have to keep my times different and peek over a couple times. There's no excuses."

"We've been talking to him about their timing; change your tempo," added manager Davey Johnson. "Guys that couldn't run were stealing. It's a learning process, and he's still going through that."

Nolasco, meanwhile, cruised by on 115 pitches. Jayson Werth got on base to lead off the game courtesy of an error by Marlins third baseman Greg Dobbs, and the Nats' next baserunner didn't come until the fifth inning, when Danny Espinosa struck out and took first on a wild pitch. Kurt Suzuki followed with a single to end the no-hit bid.

"We didn't really give Stephen much of a chance," Desmond said. "If we come out and score a couple runs early, not necessarily to jump out ahead, but just to bring the game back within reach, I think he turns the page and the competitive juices start flowing a little more."

Instead, the Nationals followed up a sweep in Philadelphia with a loss to the last-place team in the National League East. This isn't a time for panic in the Washington clubhouse, not when the Nats still have one of the best records in baseball and a division lead despite such a rough stretch. This skid will be magnified because of its timing, of course, but there is still a sense that they have put themselves in a good enough position to handle it.

"Anytime you start something like this, it's easy for people outside our clubhouse to think, 'Oh, here we go. Here's a big skid,'" first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Hopefully guys don't start buying into it and we're able to shake it off and come back out. I think it's also because we haven't had many of them. Most teams go through this quite a few times in a year, and we haven't had those.

"I can't say we have the highest of spirits. That just goes along with losing some games in a row. ... That's not the greatest feeling, but we're able to look up and know that our hard work before that still put us in a really good position. We can't forget about the six-, eight-game runs we went on all year, too, when we were killing people."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.