WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg turned in a strong outing and the bats produced another bunch of runs. After two months of mediocrity, perhaps the Washington Nationals have turned the page.
Strasburg struck out 11 in seven innings Wednesday night and the Nationals kept the Philadelphia Phillies’ bats quiet yet again in an 8-4, rain-interrupted win.
The Nationals have won four of five, outscoring the Texas Rangers and Phillies 34-10 during that span. True, five games represent barely more than 3 per cent of the regular-season schedule, but they had to start somewhere.
"It’s been a lot of fun for us, pitching the ball good and swinging the bat well," said leadoff hitter Denard Span, who had two doubles and two RBIs. "Hopefully we keep it going."
Strasburg (5-4) had the Phillies flailing as he hit double digits in Ks for the 15th time in his career — and for the fourth time without issuing a walk. Ten of the right-hander’s 11 strikeouts were swinging, including Marlon Byrd (95 mph fastball), Ryan Howard (95 mph fastball) and Domonic Brown (88 mph change-up) when the rain started to fall in the sixth inning.
"Facing a lefty-heavy lineup is difficult," Washington manager Matt Williams said. "But he used his changeup really well and spotted his fastball."
The only consolation for the Phillies is that they scored an earned run for the first time in four games when facing the Nationals’ ace. The streak reached 25 innings before Philadelphia crossed the plate twice in the fifth — once earned, once unearned. John Mayberry Jr. added a two-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh, but by then Strasburg had been working with a cushion of a half-dozen runs.
The tarp came out shortly afterward, delaying the game for 1 hour, 48 minutes.
Anthony Rendon finished with three hits and three RBIs, including a solo homer. Danny Espinosa had a two-run double that was a foot or so away from a grand slam, and Strasburg himself added a single, walk and run scored for the Nationals, who are above .500 for the first time in two weeks.
"The offence has kind of kicked it back in," Williams said.
Philadelphia’s A.J. Burnett (3-5) again had control issues in his worst outing of the season. Tied for the majors lead in walks entering the game, he issued four more free passes, including back-to-back walks in Washington’s four-run fourth and a walk to Strasburg in the three-run sixth.
"They’re unaggressive walks. I don’t care if there’s a base open. That’s not me," Burnett said. "That’s putting me in passive mode. That’s my fault. I’ve got to go after hitters. I don’t care if a base is open. I don’t care who’s up. I mean, that’s not who I am. I’ll take six aggressive walks over boo-boo walks that are 3-0 sliders, 3-0 curveballs or whatever it is."
Burnett allowed eight runs over six innings. He was particularly bothered by the home run he gave up to Rendon in the fifth immediately after the Phillies had cut a 4-0 lead to 4-2.
"For somebody who harps on shutdown innings, I’m pretty (bad) at it," he said. "And I will be better. Guys throws up runs, you need to put up zeroes after that."
The Phillies have lost five straight and are an NL-worst 9-19 since May 4.
"Sun is going to come up, believe or not," Burnett said. "It might be a little cloudy."
NOTES: It was Burnett’s first loss against the Expos-Nationals franchise since April 8, 2002, when his Florida Marlins fell 10-2 to Montreal. He had been 5-0 in nine starts and one relief appearance against the franchise since then. … Phillies leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins had the first four-strikeout game of his 15-year career. … Mayberry has three pinch-hit homers this season. … X-rays taken Wednesday on Darin Ruf were negative a day after the Phillies outfielder collided with a concrete wall during a game with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Ruf has a sprained left wrist and a cut on his right knee that required stitches, but he has no broken bones. He is on the seven-day disabled list.