Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg makes his 2012 home debut tonight against the Astros.
One significant change to Davey Johnson's lineup tonight: Steve Lombardozzi is starting at second base, with Danny Espinosa taking what the manager called a "mental break." Though Espinosa has a .333 on-base percentage thanks to eight walks, he's batting only .194, and "I see him mentally pressing a little bit," Johnson said.
It's a big night for D.C. sports, with the Capitals hosting the Bruins in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series up the road at Verizon Center. Can't promise any hockey updates here, but I can promise plenty of updates and analysis of this ballgame...
HOUSTON ASTROS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WHFS (1580 AM), XM 188
Weather: Clear, 82 degrees, Wind 13 mph out to LF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Steve Lombardozzi
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Jayson Werth
LF Xavier Nady
CF Rick Ankiel
C Wilson Ramos
RHP Stephen Strasburg
CF Jordan Schafer
SS Jed Lowrie
LF J.D. Martinez
1B Carlos Lee
RF Travis Buck
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Jose Altuve
RHP Kyle Weiland
HP Jeff Nelson, 1B Bill Welke, 2B Chris Guccione, 3B Tim Tschida (cc)
7:08 p.m. -- And we're underway with a 94 mph strike from Stephen Strasburg to Jordan Schafer. There are maybe -- maybe -- 10,000 people here right now.
7:13 p.m. -- That was a nice and tidy top of the first for Strasburg. He needed only 15 pitches (10 strikes) to dispose of Schafer, Jed Lowrie and J.D. Martinez and he got both Lowrie and Martinez to offer up feeble check-swing attempts at curveballs. Fastball was consistently 97-98 mph. Impressive start to Strasburg's evening.
7:22 p.m. -- Steve Lombardozzi delivers a line-drive single to center, but that's it for the Nats in the bottom of the first. Ryan Zimmerman looked really poor flailing at a breaking ball from Kyle Weiland to strike out. Adam LaRoche then grounded out to second to end the inning with no runs on the board for either team.
7:31 p.m. -- Well, there won't be a no-hitter here tonight, so those of you who didn't show up don't have to worry about missing out on history. Chris Johnson sent a two-out single to left-center in the top of the second. Otherwise, Strasburg has really been in top form so far. Through two scoreless, he's thrown 35 pitches (22 strikes).
7:34 p.m. -- Whoa, we lost an umpire somewhere between the top and bottom of the second. There's nobody manning second base right now. Not sure which one has gone missing, but I'll let you know as soon as we find out.
7:37 p.m. -- Second base umpire Chris Guccione has indeed left the game due to an unspecified medical issue.
7:46 p.m. -- The Strasburg curveball is in rare form tonight. Just buckling knee after knee. All three of his strikeouts so far have come via Uncle Charlie, including a fabulous one that froze Schafer in the top of the third. 45 pitches (30 strikes) for the right-hander. Still scoreless here.
7:48 p.m. -- I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that Guccione has re-assumed his position as tonight's second base umpire.
8:01 p.m. -- The good news: The Nats plated a run in the bottom of the third thanks to Ian Desmond's hustle double, then a beautifully placed bunt by Lombardozzi that resulted in Weiland throwing the ball into the right-field corner. The bad news: With an opportunity to add to their lead, the Nats couldn't get anything else going. LaRoche just missed a three-run homer, lofting a flyball to deep right-center. Jayson Werth then hit a routine flyball to center to end the third with the Nationals now up 1-0.
8:08 p.m. -- Boy does Strasburg's curveball look unhittable tonight. He recorded another strikeout on the pitch in the fourth. 55 pitches, 38 strikes through four.
8:15 p.m. -- Wilson Ramos with his first homer of the season, a solo shot to right-center. Nice display of power to the opposite field from the Nationals catcher, who has put his team on top 2-0 after four.
8:22 p.m. -- Strasburg is just making mincemeat of the Astros lineup tonight. He's through five scoreless innings now, having thrown only 61 pitches (44 strikes). He's only gone to a three-ball count twice.
8:51 p.m. -- Well, guess I spoke too soon, because Strasburg's night took a decidedly negative turn in the top of the sixth. He loaded the bases with nobody out, and though he came within one strike of escaping the jam altogether -- thanks in no small part to Rick Ankiel's 310-foot strike from center field to Ramos' mitt -- he couldn't complete it. Chris Johnson lined a two-run single to center, tying this game at 2. Worse, Strasburg needed a whopping 32 pitches to get through that inning. Now at 93 for the game, he's probably done.
9:09 p.m. -- Strasburg was indeed done after six, but how about the way his teammates picked him up and suddenly put him back in line for the win? They finally got a couple of big-time, clutch hits, first from Lombardozzi (who delivered his fourth hit of the night, a bloop double down the left-field line with the bases loaded) and then from Zimmerman (who singled up the middle to drive in two more runs). Just like that, the Nats lead 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth. Strasburg's final line: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 93 pitches, 61 strikes.
9:19 p.m. -- Tonight's official paid attendance: 16,245. Far and away the smallest crowd ever to watch Strasburg at Nationals Park.
9:30 p.m. -- Great job by Sean Burnett and Ryan Mattheus to pitch out of a jam in the top of the seventh. Three straight K's from those two relievers with two men on. We've reached the stretch, the Nats still leading 6-2.
9:42 p.m. -- Ryan Mattheus, hitting for himself with two outs and two on in the seventh? Why not? (He struck out, to the surprise of no one, but at least he'll get to pitch the eighth now.)
9:54 p.m. -- Things looked like they might spiral out of control in the top of the eighth, especially when Ankiel totally misplayed a line drive hit straight at him, taking several steps in before realizing his error and watching the ball sail over his head. But Tom Gorzelanny entered and recorded two key outs. It's now 6-3 as we go to the bottom of the eighth.
10:01 p.m. -- Crazy play to end the eighth, with Zimmerman trying to leapfrog catcher Jason Castro and elude the tag. It looked like he had done it, but plate umpire Jeff Nelson called him out, much to Zim's chagrin. On replay, it does appear Castro made the tag. Regardless, we go to the ninth, the Nats up 6-3 and Henry Rodriguez on for the save.
10:11 p.m. -- That's yer ballgame. Nats win 6-3, as H-Rod records his second save. Their record now 8-3, the Nationals remain in sole possession of first place in the NL East.