HAGERSTOWN — The Hagerstown Suns’ march to a playoff berth was slowed like it met the Ides of March.
On Monday, the Suns went in with a lion, but were taken out by a Lamb.
Pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals’ young lion, made his third rehabilitation start in Hagerstown, but Hickory starter Will Lamb stole the spotlight with five innings of one-hit pitching to lead the Crawdads to a 3-1 victory before 1,652 fans at Municipal Stadium.
For his second straight outing, Strasburg had an elevated pitch count in the first inning and fell behind as he threw 60 pitches in three innings in his fourth overall outing in his comeback from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
“I’m still having the adrenline in the first inning,” Strasburg said. “That’s to be expected. I’m still trying to relax because it is just my fourth time out there since the surgery.”
Hickory came out swinging early to make sure that Strasburg could never relax. It made for another confusing night for 2009’s top overall draft pick, who admitted that the Single-A approach is much different than the one he sees in the majors.
“It was different when I pitched in (Double-A) Harrisburg last season,” Strasburg said. “Those hitters go up there with a plan as opposed to just going up there hacking. These guys are coming out and trying to ambush you. I can only go out there and work on the things that (Washington Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty) wants me to do. If I give up some hits ...”
The loss was the third straight for the Suns (70-56, 30-26), dropping them into a tie for third place, four games behind Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division second-half standings. Hickory remains in second, two games back.
Hickory was aggressive all night, stealing four of their seven bases against Strasburg to set up the early 2-0 lead to give the Nationals star his first loss on the Single-A level.
The Crawdads jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first as the Washington ace had trouble finding his rhythm. Strasburg hit Jurickson Profar with a pitch to start the inning. Profar stole second base while Odubel Herrera struck out.
Tomas Telis grounded a single up the middle to score Profar before Christian Villanueva drew a walk that brought Hagerstown pitching coach Chris Michalak out of the dugout. After the runners stole bases to move up, Strasburg retired the side on 27 pitches — including 15 strikes and eight breaking pitches.
Strasburg got his groove as the game went on, but allowed an unearned run in the third when Hagerstown’s defense couldn’t get him out of the inning. Herrera reached on a one-out infield single before stealing second. Villanueva hit a two-out grounder to short that Jason Martinson threw away to score Herrera for the 2-0 lead.
It ended the night for Strasburg, who went 60 pitches over the three innings. He allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits, a walk and a hit batter to go with six strikeouts over the 60 pitches — including 37 strikes. Strasburg was scheduled to go 65 pitches or four innings.
Strasburg is 0-1 with a 9.95 ERA in his three Hagerstown starts. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs (seven earned ) on nine hits and three walks with 13 strikeouts. In his four Single-A rehab starts, Strasburg has pitched 9 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs on 11 hits and three walks while striking out 18, good for a 6.75 ERA.
Strasburg or no Strasburg, Hickory continued to produce as they added a run in the fourth against Suns reliever Shane McCatty. Alejandro Selen led off with a double down the left-field line. He stole third and scored on Jonathan Roof’s one-out sacrifice fly for the three-run lead.
Washington reliever Doug Slaten made his third appearance for the Suns in the fifth, retiring the Crawdads in order.
The Suns got their only run in the sixth inning when Adrian Sanchez hit a leadoff home run to left off reliever Roman Mendez.
Hagerstown finished with five hits and had threats in the fifth and ninth innings but failed to score.