Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg will battle the Royals and the heat this afternoon.
This will be a good test for Strasburg, who I would imagine has never pitched in heat quite like this before. He's talked in the past about dealing with wind and cold in the Mountain West Conference, but the only other place he's pitched that may have compared to this was Beijing at the 2008 Olympics.
That said, the conditions today -- or more specifically, the rare 4:35 p.m. starting time -- could play to Strasburg's advantage. The worst time of day for hitters is late afternoon, when the shadows start creeping over the plate but the bright sun remains on the pitcher's mound.
Just a hunch, but I've got a feeling Strasburg's going to be especially effective today.
Check back for updates throughout...
ROYALS at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:35 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 95 degrees, Wind 9 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Ian Desmond
P Stephen Strasburg
LF Scott Podsednik
C Jason Kendall
CF David DeJesus
1B Billy Butler
RF Jose Guillen
3B Alberto Callaspo
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
2B Chris Getz
P Brian Bannister
3:13 p.m. -- I know you'll all be interested to hear this: Jim Riggleman plans to take the same approach with his designated hitters this weekend in Baltimore as he did last week in Cleveland and Detroit. In other words, look for Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman to each get one day off from defensive duties but remain in the lineup as DH. That also means more at-bats for Michael Morse and (yes) Willie Harris.
3:17 p.m. -- Something to keep in mind about today's game: Riggleman may not have his full complement of late-innings relievers to turn to if the Nats hold a slim lead. Drew Storen threw 22 pitches over more than one inning last night. Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps each pitched the last two nights. I would be surprised if Riggleman uses all three today.
3:21 p.m. -- If you were wondering -- and I'm sure you were -- what the record is for most strikeouts in the first four games of a pitcher's career, it's 40. Herb Score did that in 1955 for the Indians. Strasburg's at 32 through three starts, so he needs eight today to tie Score, nine to establish a new record.
4:30 p.m. -- Nationals Park may be close to full at some point this afternoon, but not for Strasburg's first pitch. There might be 25,000 fans actually in their seats right now. Tons more streaming through the center-field gate, though.
4:36 p.m. -- And away we go ... Stephen Strasburg starts off Scott Podsednik with a 97 mph fastball for strike one. 93 sweltering degrees at gametime.
4:39 p.m. -- Well that didn't take long. Three up, three down. Needed only nine pitches, seven strikes. Struck out Podsednik on a 97 mph heater, then got Kendall to ground out to second and DeJesus to hit a lazy fly ball to left.
4:44 p.m. -- Not to be outdone, Brian Bannister mows down the top of the Nats' lineup in 10 pitches. We're scoreless through one. Still a stream of fans coming through the gates.
4:54 p.m. -- Couple of soft singles for the Royals in the second -- an grounder up the middle by Guillen and a blooper to center by Callaspo -- but Strasburg brushes those aside. He battled through an eight-pitch at-bat with Betancourt (who fouled off six straight) and emerged without allowing a run to score. Through two, he's allowed two hits, struck out two and has thrown 21 of his 25 pitches for strikes.
5:00 p.m. -- Hey, what do you know, the Nats are doing nothing offensively in support of Strasburg. Bannister has faced the minimum through two, allowing a single to Dunn but getting Rodriguez to ground into an inning-ending double play. He's only thrown 21 pitches (13 strikes) himself through two scoreless innings.
5:11 p.m. -- Couple more singles for Kansas City in the third, but they both came with two outs. Facing his first real challenge, Strasburg struck out cleanup hitter Billy Butler looking at a 97 mph fastball. Through three, he's given up four hits, no runs, no walks, four strikeouts. 43 pitches, 34 strikes.
5:20 p.m. -- Cross another "first" off Strasburg's list: His first career hit. Sharp single to left in the bottom of the third. They saved the ball for him, naturally.
5:32 p.m. -- Strasburg is putting guys on base -- six in the last three innings -- but he's coming through when he needs to. Six strikeouts through four. Unfortunately, his teammates haven't done squat against Bannister, so it's still scoreless.
5:50 p.m. -- Uh-oh. Royals take a 1-0 lead in the fifth, getting three straight two-out hits, all with two strikes. You might say Strasburg is actually too much around the plate. Sixty-three of his 78 pitches so far have been strikes. Kansas City's hitters are showing they can put them in play. Eight hits through five, all of them singles, four of them coming with two strikes.
5:59 p.m. -- Wow, what a blown opportunity for the Nationals. First and third, no one out, and they can't score. Willingham was the biggest culprit. The Royals were conceding the run on a grounder to first, but Hammer inexplicably stopped halfway down the line and then ran back to third. Huge mistake. Desmond then struck out for the second out. Willie Harris was on deck to hit for Strasburg, but Riggleman pulled him back at the last moment and let Strasburg hit with two outs and runners on second and third. He wound up grounding out to short. So he still trails 1-0 after five, and you wonder how much left he has in him anyways.
6:11 p.m. -- That should do it for him. Six innings, 1 run, 9 hits, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts. His 41 strikeouts are the most ever by a pitcher in the first four games of his career, besting Herb Score's record from 1955. Strasburg also now has more strikeouts than anyone on the Nats' pitching staff but Tyler Clippard.
6:22 p.m. -- Wow, another squandered scoring opportunity, though this time the umpires cost the Nats the tying run. With runners on first and second and one out, Dunn singled to right. Bernadina came around and appeared to beat Jason Kendall's tag, but Hunter Wendelstedt called him out. Replays confirmed he was safe. The crowd went nuts with disapproval. No argument from Riggleman, though. When Willingham was caught looking at strike three, the rally was killed, and so were Strasburg's chance at a win. He'll either take the loss or a no-decision. Sean Burnett on to pitch the seventh.
6:27 p.m. -- Today's paid attendance: 31,913. Smallest crowd to see Strasburg so far, home or away. Actually, this was even smaller than the crowd of 33,774 that turned out June 4 against the Reds (the game everyone thought Strasburg was going to start).
6:30 p.m. -- Well, at least Bannister is now out of the game. The Nats can take their chances against the Royals' bullpen, starting with Robinson Tejeda.
6:36 p.m. -- Can we have Bannister back please? Tejada mows down Pudge, Kennedy and Desmond in the seventh. It's STILL 1-0. If the Nats don't score, Strasburg will own a 1.78 ERA and a 41-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio but a 2-1 record. Unbelievable.
6:46 p.m. -- Willie Harris is 0 for his last 20. His last hit came on June 3 at Houston.
6:50 p.m. -- They're down to their last three outs after Ryan Zimmerman whiffs at a 2-2 fastball at his eyelids, with the tying run on second. Incredibly, it's still 1-0 heading to the ninth.
7:06 p.m. -- It's over. Nats lose 1-0. Unreal. Sitting in the Royals' dugout, Zack Greinke must know how Stephen Strasburg feels right now.