The Strasburg Express arrived on time Monday and operated with Strasburgian efficiency.
In his first major-league game in more than a year, the post-Tommy John surgery Stephen Strasburg positioned himself for a victory despite a reported 60-pitch limit, shutting out the Dodgers on only 56 pitches over five innings.
“They say the most difficult aspect for pitchers returning from Tommy John isn’t necessarily velocity, but control,” wrote David Schoenfield of ESPN.com. “Strasburg had no issues with location in this game.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dodger veteran Ted Lilly suffered through a 32-pitch inning, came away with a scoreless tie (and three strikeouts), then gave up three runs in the second, two of them earned, the other coming thanks in large part to his throwing error.
But while Washington could revel in the return of their prodigy, it was the Dodgers who celebrated at game’s end. A three-run rally immediately off two relievers immediately after Strasburg’s exit tied the game, and then Rod Barajas’ two-run double in the eighth inning pushed them ahead for good in what became a 7-3 victory.
Barajas had actually grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning, but seized his chance at redemption with two out in the eighth, driving home Andre Ethier (who had a two-run single in the sixth and a two-run double in the ninth) and Aaron Miles with two out in the eighth.
Lilly, who struck out only three in his last start, had nine in five innings tonight and retired 11 of his final 12 batters. Matt Guerrier, Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen combined for six strikeouts in two innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Justin Sellers saved Mike MacDougal a run with a leaping catch of a Chris Marrero drive toward right-center with Steve Lombardozzi on third.
Finishing the game, Javy Guerra loaded the bases but got the Dodgers’ 16th and 17th strikeouts in the ninth, matching the Dodgers’ highest total in a nine-inning game since 1990, one shy of the team record. Ramon Martinez struck out 18 by himself in that June 4, 1990 game.
Gordon, who speed-doubled to lead off the game for one of the two baserunners off Strasburg, had three hits and a stolen base.
Nationals relievers allowed 14 baserunners in four innings. The Dodgers would have scored more, but speedster Tony Gwynn Jr., who entered the game as a pinch-runner managed to get thrown out at third base and home in consecutive innings.