Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg faces Matt Cain tonight in a top-tier pitching matchup.
For one thing, the Giants are sending a tough right-hander of their own to the mound in Matt Cain (career 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA against the Nats). For another thing, Jim Riggleman won't have several regulars in his lineup.
Josh Willingham has a surprising day off. That wasn't announced in advance, so I'm not sure if there's an injury issue or something else, but I'll let you know once I know. Everyone's favorite Willie Harris is starting in left field. Ian Desmond also is out, though that was somewhat expected. Riggleman said yesterday that Cristian Guzman would be starting all three games of this series.
And for the first time in Strasburg's brief career, Ivan Rodriguez will not be behind the plate. Pudge started all three games against San Diego, so Wil Nieves gets his first regular-season crack at catching The Kid tonight. (Nieves did work with Strasburg in spring training.)
Check back for updates before, during and after the game...
PADRES at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 89 degrees, Wind 10 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
SS Cristian Guzman
LF Willie Harris
2B Adam Kennedy
C Wil Nieves
P Stephen Strasburg
CF Andres Torres
2B Freddy Sanchez
RF Aubrey Huff
LF Pat Burrell
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Travis Ishikawa
SS Edgar Renteria
P Matt Cain
4:23 p.m. -- Willingham's fine, and he hasn't been traded. Simply a matter of Riggleman wanting to get Willie Harris into the lineup (and since the Giants are throwing lefties the rest of the weekend, it had to be tonight). Also said there's no harm in giving Willingham a rest, since he's started the Nats' last 20 games.
4:48 p.m. -- Riggleman also announced the plan for Stephen Strasburg coming out of the All-Star break. In a surprise development, Strasburg will start the opener against the Marlins next Friday, then remain on a regular, five-game schedule the rest of the way until he reaches his innings limit of 160. Why? Check out the new posting up on the homepage.
6:05 p.m. -- More news: Luis Atilano has been optioned to Class AAA. No corresponding roster move yet, but Justin Maxwell was scratched from Syracuse's lineup today. Full post with an explanation and Atilano quote on the homepage.
6:14 p.m. -- Is the Strasburg novelty wearing off? I was told only 27,000 or so advance tickets were sold for tonight's game. Barring a huge walk-up, this will be the smallest crowd yet to see the rookie pitch. Three of his four previous home starts were sellouts; the other (against the Royals) drew 31,913.
7:07 p.m. -- We are underway with a 97 mph fastball from Stephen Strasburg to Andres Torres for ball one.
7:14 p.m. -- Well, that was an interesting top of the first to say the least. Torres announced his presence with authority by absolutely crushing a 3-1 fastball from Strasburg off the facade of the second deck in right field, only the third homer surrendered by the rookie this season. He rebounded to retire the next three Giants batters, but each smoked line drives to the outfield: one to left, two to center. Really solid contact from all of them. The problem? Strasburg was behind in the count almost the entire time. He threw only eight of 17 pitches for strikes. Thus, the Nats trail 1-0 heading to the bottom of the first.
7:20 p.m. -- Just when you think you've seen it all, this game surprises you. With two outs and Roger Bernadina on second base, Matt Cain just twirled around and faked a pickoff. Except he couldn't hold onto the ball. It wound up in shallow left-center field. And a heads-up Bernadina and third-base coach Pat Listach didn't stop running til he scored. Yes, he scored on a botched pickoff attempt at second base. I've never seen that before. The Nats, of course, will take it, having tied the game 1-1 after one.
7:29 p.m. -- Strasburg always seems to be at his best when he uses all three of his pitches with equal frequency. That's what he just did in the second, and not surprisingly he had more success. Struck out both Pablo Sandoval (changeup) and Travis Ishikawa (curveball). Threw 11 of his 13 pitches that inning for strikes, so he's at 30 pitches total through two innings.
7:35 p.m. -- Well, you just saw right there how difficult it's going to be for the bottom half of tonight's lineup to produce a run. Even after Cristian Guzman and Willie Harris singled to lead off the second, neither runner was advanced. Adam Kennedy hit a weak fly ball to left, and Wil Nieves hit into a tailor-made double play to end the inning. Still 1-1 after two.
7:43 p.m. -- Give credit to Nieves and Strasburg, who realized the Giants were all over his fastball in the first inning. They've adjusted and now are relying much more on offspeed stuff. Strasburg has struck out four of the last five batters he's faced, all on either curveballs or changeups. He made Edgar Renteria look absolutely silly in the third, getting the veteran to buckle his knees on one curve and then literally throw his bat in vain at the next one. Forty-four pitches, 27 strikes through three innings. Still 1-1.
8:02 p.m. -- Since that leadoff homer, Strasburg has retired 12 of 14 batters faced, six via strikeout. Only downside: He's already at 73 pitches (44 strikes) through four innings. At best, he's only going six tonight.
8:29 p.m. -- For the first time in a while, Strasburg is pitching with a lead well into the game. For that, he can thank Adam Dunn, who belted yet another homer, this one a solo shot in the fourth that put the Nats up 2-1. Strasburg is at 88 pitches through five, so clearly he's only got one more in him, if that. I'd expect the bullpen to be up and running as soon as the inning starts.
8:41 p.m. -- Perhaps I spoke too soon. Strasburg just retired the side on only seven pitches (he got Sanchez and Huff on the first pitch). So he's only at 95. Send him back out just to face Posey to open the seventh? Drew Storen is warming as we speak. We'll have to wait and see. If that's it for Strasburg, his final line will be: 6 ip, 3 h, 1 er, 1 bb, 8 k.
8:51 p.m. -- By the way, Strasburg now leads the entire Nationals' pitching staff with 61 strikeouts. He's only made seven starts.
8:54 p.m. -- Wil Nieves is 2-for-3 with a double and a two-run single. Yes, he just drove in a pair to increase the Nats' lead to 4-1. Nieves did then get thrown out straying too far off first base, but you can't blame the guy. It's not like he has a lot of experience being on base. Strasburg is done. Sean Burnett is on to pitch the seventh. Strasburg's updated season totals: 2.32 ERA, 42.2 ip, 32 h, 11 er, 11 bb, 61 k. If the Nats hang on, he'll improve to 3-2.
9:03 p.m. -- Tonight's paid attendance: 34,723. As I noted earlier, they only pre-sold about 27,000. So they must have gotten a huge walk-up for Strasmas VII.
9:20 p.m. -- Oh my lord is Adam Dunn on an unbelievable hot streak at the plate. He just crushed another home run into the Red Porch. That makes him 7 for his last 12 with five homers. Amazing stat: Dunn has hit 20 or more homers before the All-Star break in each of the last eight seasons (an MLB record). Yet he hasn't been an All-Star anytime during that stretch. Only midsummer classic came in 2002; this streak started in 2003. Nats now lead 8-1 in the seventh.
9:42 p.m. -- You know it's a good night when Joel Peralta can pitch the ninth inning with the Nats leading. Still 8-1.
9:48 p.m. -- That's it. Ballgame over. Nats win 8-1. Strasburg improves to 3-2. And don't look now, but the Nationals have won three of four from the Padres and Giants. Craig Stammen looks to make it four of five tomorrow night against Jonathan Sanchez.