Stephen Strasburg had hitters flailing at curveballs for seven scoreless innings Tuesday night, getting all eight of his strikeouts with the same pitch in a magnificent outing that was wasted when the Milwaukee Brewers scored off the Washington Nationals bullpen for a 4-0 victory.
Strasburg put on a gem of performance that dropped his ERA to 2.24 and nearly overshadowed the game's actual outcome. Once again, the Nationals' bats abandoned him, and Juan Francisco's two-run double in the eighth started a scoring spree off Drew Storen (2-2) as the Brewers snapped a six-game losing streak.
Martin Maldonado knocked in Francisco with a warning track fly ball that left fielder Bryce Harper dropped - it was nevertheless ruled a double - and scored on Jeff Bianchi's groundball single that got through the infield only because Maldonado was trying to steal third with an absurd jump off Storen.
The earned runs were the first allowed by Storen in 10 appearances, and they made Jim Henderson (3-2) the winning pitcher. Brewers starter Wily Peralta had his own shutout in the making until he left during the sixth inning with a strained left hamstring. Henderson was one of four relievers who finished the eight-hitter.
The Nationals had scored 23 runs in their previous two games, but they've now been shut out nine times this season. To get an idea of the their lack of support for Strasburg, here is the running tally of earned runs he's allowed in his last nine starts: 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0. His record during that stretch? Just 3-2.
The curve was his go-to pitch Tuesday against a meager Brewers starting nine that has only 31 home runs combined. Amaris Ramirez's helmet flew off while chasing a low-and-outside strike three in the second inning, and his juggling right-handed catch of his headgear was the only thing impressive about his at-bat.
Maldonado couldn't quite check his swing at a similar pitch to end the inning. In the third, Strasburg froze Peralta with a bender that hardly seemed fair to throw to an opposing pitcher. Rickie Weeks struck out going after a low-and-away curve in the fourth, and Peralta did the same in the fifth. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Strasburg got a called third strike on Francisco on a curveball that was maybe a bit outside, then got Sean Halton on the now-familiar low-and-away curve, with Halton unable to check the swing.
Strasburg allowed three hits. Two never left the infield, and one appeared to result from a bad call at first on a grounder to the hole by Norichika Aoki. Strasburg was pulled for a pinch hitter in the seventh, having thrown 105 pitches.
He was hardly facing the most imposing lineup in the majors. The Brewers started without shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez, who have 196 hits combined. Both have nagging injuries that need some rest, a thumb for Segura and a shoulder for Gomez. Also, team RBI leader Jonathan Lucroy didn't start because Maldonado usually catches Peralta.
NOTES: Brewers OF Ryan Braun, on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right thumb, was scheduled to take some swings in the batting cage. Manager Ron Roenicke said he's not expecting Braun to return until after the All-Star break. ... The Nationals sent outright RHP Cole Kimball to Triple-A Syracuse. ... The Nationals agreed to terms with seven international free agents: RHP Edwin Adames, C Jose Cabello, RHP Angel Guillen, LHP Jose Jimenez, OF Victor Robles, OF Dany Rojas and C Edwin Trejos.