PITTSBURGH (AP) — Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 13 over six innings and the Washington Nationals snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Roger Bernadina and Adam LaRoche both homered in the sixth off Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia (1-3) to erase a two-run deficit. Henry Rodriguez pitched the ninth for his seventh save.
Strasburg (3-0) lowered his ERA to 1.64 by overpowering the punchless Pirates. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits in six innings. He walked three, all of them coming in the sixth when he loaded the bases. Strasburg escaped when he fanned Garrett Jones on a 95 mph fastball and Washington’s bullpen made it hold up.
The Nationals have been one of baseball’s biggest surprises over the first month of the season and began the day in a virtual tie for first with Atlanta atop the NL East. Still, manager Davey Johnson was so concerned after watching his squad drop three straight — including two to Pittsburgh — he called a team meeting a couple of hours before the game.
Johnson offered a gentle reminder to his young club that there’s no reason to panic, and stressed he wasn’t going to let a little dip lead to massive changes.
There’s no need with the way Strasburg is pitching. The former No. 1 pick burst onto the scene nearly two years ago, striking out 14 Pirates during seven brilliant innings in his major league debut on June 8, 2010.
An elbow injury cut short his rookie season and required reconstructive surgery that sidelined Strasburg for a year, and the Nationals have been careful about bringing their ace along slowly.
It might be time to take off the shackles.
Strasburg struck out seven straight hitters at one point, mixing his sizzling fastball with a wicked breaking ball that kept the Pirates off balance most of the night.
Pittsburgh somehow steadied itself long enough in the fourth inning to take the lead behind RBI singles from Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
Correia lacks Strasburg’s power and instead kept the Pirates in it with his precision. He cruised through the first five innings but wobbled just long enough in the sixth to give up the lead.
Bernadina led off the sixth with his first home run of the season to put Washington on the board. Ryan Zimmerman walked and LaRoche — a former Pirate who was booed heavily at every turn throughout the series — drilled his sixth homer of the season into the Nationals’ bullpen behind the wall in center to put Washington ahead 3-2.
Given the lead for the first time all night, Strasburg nearly gave it up. He threw 12 balls in a 14-pitch span to load the bases with two outs before zipping one by Jones for his final strikeout of the night.
Rick Ankiel added some insurance in the ninth with a solo homer and Rodriguez, who blew a save on Tuesday night in a 5-4 loss, bounced back by handling the Pirates in the bottom of the inning.
Washington rookie outfielder Bryce Harper went 1 for 4 and committed his first major league error in the fourth when he tried to gun down Jose Tabata at the plate. The ball bounced off catcher Jesus Flores, allowing McCutchen to move to second.
NOTES: Pittsburgh starter Erik Bedard, who left Wednesday’s game after eight pitches due to back spasms, felt better on Thursday. ... Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward took batting practice and threw out the first pitch. Ward, who retired in March, was selected in the 73rd round of the 1994 MLB Draft by the Florida Marlins. He chose to play football at Georgia instead. ... The Nationals continue a six-game road trip on Friday in Cincinnati. Washington’s Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 1.72 ERA) faces Mike Leake (0-4, 5.97). ... The Pirates host Houston on Friday. James McDonald (2-1, 2.70) starts for Pittsburgh against Bud Norris (2-1, 5.48).