Bill Ladson

Game slips away after Strasburg's quality start

Bullpen allows three runs in seventh as magic number stays at 10

Game slips away after Strasburg's quality start

WASHINGTON -- The magic number remains at 10. That's the number of games needed for the Nationals to win the National League East title. On Wednesday, Stephen Strasburg made several mistakes, and it proved costly as the Braves pounded the Nats, 6-2, at Nationals Park.

Strasburg (11-11) pitched six innings and allowed three runs on seven hits, including a solo homer by B.J. Upton in the fifth inning. The pitch was on the inside part of the plate, but Upton golfed it over the left-field wall.

"The ball just found his bat," Strasburg said. "I just have to make a better pitch. I felt great out there. I felt I was hitting my spots. A couple of hits that were out of our reach, and that was the ballgame."

It was also a game in which Strasburg extended his career high with 195 innings pitched this season. He is expected to reach 200 innings in his next start against the Marlins. For most of his career, Strasburg has been on an innings limit because of injuries or simply team orders.

Washington tied the score in the fifth off Braves right-hander Aaron Harang. After Denard Span and Kevin Frandsen reached base on consecutive singles to put runners on first and third, Span scored on catcher Christian Bethancourt's passed ball to make it a 1-1 game.

Harang pitched seven solid innings without allowing an earned run. The shadows gave Harang some help as well.

"Harang pitched well today. No ifs, ands or buts about it" Span said. "He did the job and they had a good win today.

"[The shadows were] tough. It was tough to pick up his pitches. I think in the middle part of the game, it was tough. When I was on base, a couple of their players said it was tough to pick up Strasburg as well. You saw a lot of guys swinging and missing and taking pitches right down the middle. You just have to battle through it and play through the conditions."

Harang was happy to turn the tables on the Nationals.

"It's big to help flip things around and get us out of here on a good note," Harang said. "If we had come in here and gotten swept, that is going to be a sour taste in everyone's mouth going into the next series and even next week when [the Nationals] come to our place."

It was nearly all Atlanta starting with the sixth inning, when Freddie Freeman led off with a double and scored on a single by Justin Upton. After Upton was erased after attempting to steal second, Tommy La Stella doubled to left-center field and scored on a single by Bethancourt to make it a two-run game.

Nationals left-hander Jerry Blevins entered the game in the seventh and had a tough time getting hitters out. With the bases loaded, Freeman hit a sacrifice fly -- which Jayson Werth hauled in with a great running catch -- to score Harang.

Ryan Mattheus replaced Blevins and allowed a two-run double to Justin Upton. The runs were charged to Blevins, who saw his ERA go up to 5.37.

It is a possibility that Blevins could lose his spot on the playoff roster. But for now, he will continue to get the ball, according to manager Matt Williams.

"Today, he gave up a base hit to the pitcher and then a broken-bat hit. Then you get to the middle of their order. They are tough on anybody," Williams said. "It's a situation where we have to continue to give him the baseball in those types of situations. We lined it up pretty good to face lefties. It didn't happen today."

The Nats showed signs of late life when Bryce Harper launched a solo homer off the upper-deck facade in right-center in the ninth, but it was the only other run Washington could muster.

Frandsen went 3-for-4 as a fill-in at third base for Anthony Rendon, who was not in the lineup because of the flu.

The Nationals have an eight-game lead over the Braves in the NL East with an 82-62 record. If there was any good news, it was the fact that Washington took two out of three games from Atlanta.

"In order to win the division, you have to beat them," Span said. "It was definitely a good series for us. We did what we wanted to do. We won the series against them and we are sitting pretty good.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.