Stephen Strasburg gave the Cleveland Indians a sampling of what has made him one of the top starters in baseball this season as he supplied the Washington Nationals with seven shutout innings of three-hit ball on the way to a 4-1 win on Wednesday afternoon.
Strasburg kept the Indians out of the ball game for seven innings. By the time he reached the end of his outing, there just were not enough innings left to play for the Indians to try to cut into the deficit. To top it off, the double play ball that has haunted the Indians both offensively and defensively over the last several weeks reared its head twice around scoring opportunities, drastically changing the outcome of the game.
Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco gave up a leadoff double in the first with no damage done. In the second inning, however, his own control became his enemy as he walked the first two batters of the inning, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon. Ryan Zimmerman hit a double play ball to short…but the throw by Francisco Lindor to Jason Kipnis was dropped in the transfer, allowing Zimmerman to reach. The Nationals took full advantage of the bonus out later in the inning, after Danny Espinosa struck out. Zimmerman picked off second before a dozen-pitch walk by Ben Revere loaded the bases. Trea Turner got his second hit in as many innings as his single to left plated Werth and Zimmerman to spot the dangerous Strasburg a gigantic two-run lead.
The Indians struggled to figure out the Washington righty, and when they did get runners on base, they could not get them across home. Jose Ramirez doubled with one out in the second and stole third, but was left stranded on a pop out and a strikeout. Tyler Naquin walked to lead off the third, but was still standing at second after a sacrifice and a pair of fly outs. Ramirez singled in the fourth with two outs and went to third when Lonnie Chisenhall reached safely on an error by Rendon, but Rajai Davis left his second and third base runners of the game in scoring position on a groundout to third. Naquin’s leadoff infield single in the fifth was also wasted, as was a two-out walk from Ramirez in the sixth.
Carrasco retired ten straight after the Turner two-out, two-run single in the second before Daniel Murphy lifted a homer to right to give Washington a 3-0 lead. They added another in the next inning against reliever Dan Otero as Zimmerman singled, was sacrificed to second, advanced to third on a groundout to second by Revere, and scored on a Turner two-out double.
Cleveland made it a little interesting in the ninth, again doing damage to a good Washington bullpen. Left-hander Felipe Rivero took over for Matt Belisle in the ninth and retired Ramirez on a foul out to first. Erik Gonzalez, pinch-hitting for Chisenhall, drew a walk. He moved to second as Davis singled to right. Naquin drove a low and away 0-2 pitch back up the middle into center to score the Indians’ only run of the game as Rivero was lifted for right-hander Blake Treinen. He got potential tying run Roberto Perez to ground into a lethal 4-6-3 double play to end the ball game while earning his first Major League save.
The Indians (57-42) split with the top team in the NL East in the Nationals (59-42). The two teams will meet again in the nation’s capital in two weeks for a pair of games on August 9 and 10.
STRASBURG SHUTS THEM DOWN
Strasburg (14-1, 2.68 ERA) bounced back from his first loss of the season his last time out with a solid seven innings for the Nats. He allowed just three hits on the afternoon while walking two and striking out seven.
“He has a lot of weapons,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “He can throw the ball by you, a fastball on both sides of the plate. He has a slider, change. He’s got everything and his fastball has a ton of ride or finish, however you want to put it. His delivery. It’s impressive.”
CARRASCO TAKES LOSS IN QUALITY START
Carrasco (7-4, 2.45) was the tough luck loser for the Tribe on Wednesday. He gave up three hits and three walks over six innings and struck out five, but was victimized by the walks and 38 pitches required of him in the second inning.
“I think that took something out of me,” said Carrasco in regards to the lengthy battle with Revere in the second. “He won with a walk. It’s part of the game. I threw every pitch and he hit everything.”
It was his first Major League game against the Nationals and his first Interleague start of the season.
MURPHY MAKES THEM PAY
Murphy, whose eleven-game hitting streak came to an end on Tuesday night with an 0-for-5 at the plate, struck through with a pair of extra base hits against the Indians on Wednesday, including the solo home run. He remains the NL’s leader in batting average, slugging, and OPS this season.
His homer off of Carrasco was the 20th of his season and marked the sixth time in 13 games that he has left the yard.
TURNER FOR THREE
Turner matched a career-high three hits with his performance (equaling his 3-for-3 game in his season debut on June 3 at Cincinnati). He was 3-for-4 in the win on Wednesday afternoon, delivering a pair of doubles, a single, and a career-best three runs batted in.
NAQUIN AND RAMIREZ NOT SCARED OF STRASBURG
While the rest of the Indians lineup was contained by the Washington starter, Ramirez and Naquin found themselves on base more often than not. Ramirez was 2-for-2 against Strasburg with a single, double, stolen base, and a walk. Naquin was 1-for-2 with a single, a walk, and a strikeout, and later delivered the Tribe’s only run in the ninth. Chisenhall was the only other Indian to reach against Strasburg and did so on an error.
The rest of the lineup was 0-for-20 against Strasburg with six strikeouts.
LEAD SHRINKING AWAY
The loss by Cleveland, paired with a win in Boston by Detroit, has squeezed the Indians’ lead in the AL Central to four and a half games over the Tigers, their smallest divisional lead in over a month.
OFF DAY BEFORE THE A’S
The Tribe will take Thursday off before welcoming in the visiting Oakland Athletics for a three-game series over the weekend. Fireworks shows are on the slate for the first two games, with a t-shirt giveaway Friday night and a Jim Thome bobblehead available Saturday night as the Indians usher in four new members to their Hall of Fame.
In Friday’s 7:10 PM ET start, Trevor Bauer (7-4, 3.65) will toe the rubber for the Tribe against the A’s Kendall Graveman (7-6, 4.15).
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer