The Nationals didn't do much at the plate in Strasburg's second start since a stint on the disabled list, but they did just enough to win. Ian Desmond padded his All-Star resume in the seventh inning with a third homer in as many games, nudging the Nationals to a 2-1 win over the Rockies.
"Any time you win, it feels good. But we're still not where we need to be," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Every hitter in the lineup is not where they need to be. But we're going to get there. I have all the confidence in the world we're going to get there."
The Nationals have now won three straight games for the first time since May 8-10. The reason? Strasburg.
The 24-year-old flamethrower struck out nine batters and allowed just one run on five hits over seven innings. He now has given up one earned run or fewer in six straight starts, despite receiving some of the worst run support of any starter in the Major Leagues.
With Strasburg on the mound, the Nationals had scored a mere 2.50 runs per game this season entering Friday night's game.
"As a competitor, you want to go out there and win every time," Strasburg said. "Sometimes, it's not going to work out that way, but the big thing is that you have to go out there with the same mentality every time out, regardless of what's happened in the past."
With such little support, it seems like Strasburg's every mistake is magnified. And that certainly was the case in the third inning, when Strasburg grazed the elbow of Josh Rutledge, the Rockies' No. 8 hitter, allowing him to take first base. Rutledge advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by pitcher Tyler Chatwood and scored on a single by DJ LeMahieu to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead.
The Nationals, meanwhile, were typically sluggish in another Strasburg start. Through five innings, they had four strikeouts, nine groundouts and just two hits. Strasburg retired 21 of the 27 batters he faced to keep them in the game.
"It's a big-time arm with big velocity and a really good breaking ball, good changeup," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "It's a tough at-bat, regardless who you are."
The one apparent hiccup in Strasburg's night was not a hiccup after all. Pitching coach Steve McCatty visited the mound with two outs in the seventh because he saw Strasburg stretching and was worried that the right-hander had aggravated an oblique injury.
"You know, I'm not a kid anymore," Strasburg said. "I should be allowed to stretch a little bit out there."
After Ryan Zimmerman smacked an RBI double into the right-field corner in the sixth to tie the game, Desmond gave the Nationals the lead in the seventh. He crushed a 2-0 offering from Manuel Corpas to right-center for his 12th home run of the year, putting Washington ahead for good.
Once Drew Storen escaped a jam in the eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth, the Nationals slapped hands near the pitcher's mound to celebrate one of their few winning streaks of the season. With the win and another Braves loss, Washington inched one game closer to Atlanta in the National League East, moving within five games of first place.
Strasburg sauntered off the field and returned to the clubhouse.
Tough-luck loser? Not on this night.