WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg had hitters flailing at curveballs for seven scoreless innings. The pitch got him all eight of his strikeouts. One batter even had his helmet fly off while trying to chase a low-and-away bender.
It was another gem of a performance gone to waste for the Washington Nationals ace. Strasburg said afterward he no longer wanted to hear about the lack of run support, but the only people who can stop the talk are his own teammates, who failed him again Tuesday night in a 4-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
"You know, I'm tired of talking about that," he said. "These guys battle every single day, just like I do, and it just didn't work out for us tonight. But I'd like to get over that. I'd like to stop answering questions about run support."
Strasburg's ERA dropped to 2.24 and nearly overshadowed the game's actual outcome. He was done after seven innings and 105 pitches, and Juan Francisco's two-run double in the eighth started a scoring spree off Drew Storen (2-2) as the Brewers snapped a six-game losing streak.
"That's the first time I've really seen him live — so explosive fastball, really ridiculous curveball," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, giving his Strasburg review. "You don't see too many curveballs like that."
The Nationals had scored 23 runs in their previous two games, but they've now been shut out nine times this season. To get an idea of the their lack of support for Strasburg, here is the running tally of earned runs he's allowed in his last nine starts: 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0. His record during that stretch? Just 3-2.
"I think when a guy throws like that, he should be able to win," Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper said.
But he didn't. Francisco got the big hit off Storen and scored when Martin Maldonado hit a warning track fly ball that popped out of Harper's glove. It was ruled a double but Harper said simply: "I dropped it."
Maldonado then scored on Jeff Bianchi's groundball single that got through the infield only because Maldonado was trying to steal third with an absurd jump off Storen, who still hasn't figured out how to hold men on base.
"Fall behind these guys," Storen said, "give them something to hit and they're going to take care of it. ... I made mistakes not holding the runners and fell behind guys."
The earned runs were the first allowed by Storen in 10 appearances, and they made Jim Henderson (3-2) the winning pitcher. Brewers starter Wily Peralta had his own shutout in the making until he left during the sixth inning with a strained left hamstring. Henderson was one of four relievers who finished the eight-hitter.
Roenicke said he's hoping Peralta's tight hamstring was simply the result of a lack of fluid on a humid day.
"We're hoping in a couple days he'll be all right," Roenicke said.
The curve was Strasburg's go-to pitch Tuesday against a meager Brewers starting nine that has only 31 home runs combined. Amaris Ramirez's helmet went flying when he swung at a low-and-outside strike three in the second inning, and his juggling right-handed catch of his headgear was the only thing impressive about his at-bat.
Maldonado couldn't quite check his swing at a similar pitch to end the inning. In the third, Strasburg froze Peralta with a bender that hardly seemed fair to throw to an opposing pitcher. Rickie Weeks struck out going after a low-and-away curve in the fourth, and Peralta did the same in the fifth. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Strasburg got a called third strike on Francisco on a curveball that was maybe a bit outside, then got Sean Halton on the now-familiar low-and-away curve, with Halton unable to check the swing.
Strasburg allowed three hits. Two never left the infield, and one appeared to result from a bad call at first on a grounder to the hole by Norichika Aoki.
He was hardly facing the most imposing lineup in the majors. The Brewers started without shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez, who have 196 hits combined. Both have nagging injuries that need some rest, a thumb for Segura and a shoulder for Gomez. Also, team RBI leader Jonathan Lucroy didn't start because Maldonado usually catches Peralta.
It was a lineup that couldn't do much — until Strasburg left the game.