May 23, 2015, 6:40 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The less said about this game, the better. But the bosses require a bit more description than that, so here goes…
Stephen Strasburg was roughed up once again, this time giving up six runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings that featured a bunch of hard-hit balls, some awful defense and more weary sighs from the right-hander stuck in the worst prolonged stretch of his career. Rookie A.J. Cole replaced Strasburg in the fourth and enjoyed a bit more success, though he still allowed two more runs, including Ryan Howard’s towering homer to center.
Cole Hamels, on the other hand, carved up the Nationals lineup, allowed two infield singles through the first five innings before Yunel Escobar doubled in the sixth on a hard grounder to third that could’ve been scored an error on Maikel Franco. The Nats, who were charged with four errors on the day — and that didn’t even include a bizarre, Little-League-style play in the sixth that was wiped out when Cesar Hernandez failed to touch first base on an extra-base hit to right-center — slogged their way through the rest of the afternoon.
For a team that had won 18 of its last 22, the Nationals probably deserve a mulligan for this unsightly performance. Strasburg, though, has become a major concern, with no definitive answer for his woes.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: Bryce Harper has enjoyed some success against Hamels in his career, including his famous steal of home plate after getting plunked his rookie season. But Harper at the plate Saturday looked as bad as he has in a long time, completely frazzled by Hamels. He struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat, squaring around to bunt on the first one for some reason. Harper finished 0-for-4 on the day, a rare showing by the scalding-hot 22-year-old.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Just when it looked like Strasburg might be headed back on the right track following an improved outing in San Diego, he regressed back into the form that worried so many observers. The Phillies made solid contact all over the place, often on poorly placed fastballs. That included Maikel Franco’s 2-run homer to center on an 0-2 fastball that was shoulder-high and over the plate. The fourth inning also saw several instances where Strasburg didn’t bother to back up the plate on hits with men in scoring position. He trudged off the mound as he has too often this season, looking weary and exasperated. Given the fact he sports a 6.50 ERA and 1.69 WHIP, the frustration is understandable.
KEY STAT: With a sellout crowd, the Nationals’ average attendance this season increased to 31,913. That’s fourth-best in the NL, seventh-best in MLB.
UP NEXT: The series concludes at 1:35 p.m. Sunday when Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.94) tries to get the Nats back on the winning track against right-hander and noted post-anthem stand-off guy Aaron Harang (4-3, 1.82).
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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