Behind 1-2 in his first at-bat Monday, Pablo Sandoval, as pesky a hitter as there is in the Giants’ lineup, received Stephen Strasburg’s first curveball of the night and got enough of the 80-mph breaker to foul it off. Then he fouled a fastball at 94 mph. Then he saw an 88-mph changeup, so low it nearly hit the dirt, and fouled that off, too.
After running the count even, though, Strasburg threw another fastball at 94 mph, and this time Sandoval could not catch up, striking out swinging at the eighth pitch of the at-bat. It was quite the battle from Sandoval – and only underscored the weapons at the disposal of Strasburg, the Washington right-hander and National League strikeout leader who pumped the brakes on the league’s hottest team in a 9-2 win over the Giants on Monday night.
The Giants lost for just the fourth time in 18 games and the first in a Ryan Vogelsong start since May 13. Vogelsong nearly matched Strasburg’s seven strikeouts with six of his own, but allowed a season-high nine hits – six for extra bases, equaling a career high – and the Nationals scored five times in the seventh off Vogelsong and George Kontos to send some fans heading for the exits.
The outburst also negated any need for the Nationals to push Strasburg, who exited after six innings having thrown 88 pitches and retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced. In his young career, Strasburg improved to 3-0 in four starts against the Giants with a 1.80 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25 innings.
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Before the game, Matt Williams, the Nationals’ first-year manager and former All-Star Giants third baseman, offered a scouting report of his ace: “If you look at the book on Stephen, you say, we want to hit the fastball, albeit a really good one, because we don’t want to get the changeup or the curve. That’s how I would approach it, anyway.”
And the Giants did appear to come out swinging against Strasburg. Hunter Pence swung at the second pitch he saw in the first inning, a fastball, flying out to right. Buster Posey then jumped on a first-pitch fastball and doubled down the left-field line. But Strasburg won his eight-pitch battle with Sandoval, stranding Posey at second.
An inning later, Tyler Colvin yanked a 2-0 fastball down the right-field line for a double, and Brandon Crawford followed by lining an 0-1 fastball into right-center field to drive in Colvin. But from there, the Giants had just one batter reach safely against Strasburg, on Pence’s two-out single in the third.
By then, the Nationals already had built a 4-1 lead against Vogelsong, who allowed six earned runs in a start for the first time since May 9 of last year against Atlanta. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond accounted for two of the RBI hits off Vogelsong with a triple in the second inning and a two-run single in the third – the latter coming after Vogeslong had issued consecutive walks to load the bases.
“He was up a bit more than what we’re used to,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He made some really good pitches at times, and he had some borderline pitches there (in the third). I think he was a little frustrated. But he got the ball up, and this team we’re playing has been swinging the bat well, and they took advantage of him.”
Vogelsong said it was “just a bad night” and answered abruptly when asked if he felt he was dealing with a tight strike zone in the third. “I can’t say anything about that, because the commissioner’s office will call me,” he said. “But their guy was pitching to it, too.”
Desmond added a two-run double off Kontos in the seventh for a career-high five RBIs, part of what qualified as an avalanche of support for Strasburg, who had received two or fewer runs in eight of his first 13 starts this season. Strasburg added miles per hour to his fastball as the game went on, reaching 96 in the middle innings, and did not let the Giants drive up his pitch count. That’s one area where Williams said Strasburg’s velocity and difficult movement sometimes work against him by resulting in foul balls and deep counts.
One Giants hitter who might have helped in that regard, leadoff man Angel Pagan, sat out a second consecutive game with a right shin contusion suffered when he slid into home in the ninth inning Saturday. Pagan did pinch-hit in the ninth, and Bochy said Pagan could return to the lineup tonight.