Baseball’s elite was pitching on Monday — Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay were facing off in San Francisco, Justin Verlander was throwing in Kansas City, and Stephen Strasburg took the mound in Washington. Of the five, Verlander seemed the most locked in (nine innings, seven hits, nine strikeouts), though Strasburg showed why he is now considered one of the best hurlers in baseball.
In six innings of work, Strasburg kept his team in the game against the Houston Astros, and was able to pull out a win when his teammates scored four runs in the sixth inning. The key to the D.C. victory, though, was the hitting of super-sub Steve Lombardozzi, who went 4-5 and plated two. Washington’s steady-as-she-goes bullpen then held the Astros to one run through three innings to seal the victory, with Henry Rodriguez closing out the ‘Stros in the 9th.
This was one of those rare starts for Lombardozzi, who was subbing for the struggling Danny Espinosa at second — but he showed why he made the team out of Spring Training. “He is a good two-strike hitter, he makes the pitchers throw the ball over,” Johnson said of Lombardozzi. “He is a little more aggressive in this role, which is good, because it’s harder to take a lot of pitches . . . He has a good idea of the strike zone.”
Strasburg pitched well, but he was not at his best. He struggled in the sixth inning, giving up three singles and a walk and allowing Houston to tie the game at 2. “I thought he threw the ball well. In his previous start, I took him farther than I wanted him to,” Johnson said of Strasburg’s outing. “It probably took a little bit out of him when he threw [over 100 pitches] the second time out. But he was going along pretty good. He had that rough inning [in the sixth], but he got out of it with the score tied.”
With the score tied in the sixth, and Strasburg in line for a “no decision,” the Nationals put two on the board and put the game out of reach for Houston. In the bottom of that frame, Houston starter Kyle Weiland gave up a single to Rick Ankiel, walked pinch hitter Roger Bernadina and shortstop Ian Desmond, before Lombardozzi put a bleeder into left field to score two. That was enough to seal the 6-3 win. Ryan Zimmerman’s bat finally came alive in the win, as he notched two hits in four appearances, and accounted for two RBIs.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: What the hell is wrong with Tim Lincecum? The normally lights-out San Francisco righty has been anything but in the early going, and his performance on Monday night was no exception. Lincecum was all over the strike zone, and was clearly frustrated by his lack of command.
Facing off against Roy Halladay, Lincecum gave up five runs and eight hits over six innings — at one point throwing the ball up and in, and over the head of catcher Buster Posey, then pacing the mound in frustration at his lack of control. Lincecum’s velocity was also down. While this is unusual, it’s not unusual for this year. Lincecum has a 10.54 ERA and the Giants are struggling. The San Francisco Nine are 4-6 in the early stages of the 2012 campaign. This is the third time in three starts that Lincecum has struggled.
If there is good news, it is that the San Fran righty settled down after his first inning, which led McCovey manager Bruce Bochy to say that Lincecum is improving. Lincecum says that he needs to stay aggressive. “It’s easy to say when things start falling off in that first inning, ‘Here we go again.’ But I tried my best to put a stop to that and pitch better from the second inning on,” Lincecum said.
Lost in the kerfuffle over Lincecum’s struggles was Roy Halladay’s continued dominance. Halladay threw eight innings of seven hit ball to lead the Phillies to a ho-hum 5-2 win. Newbie closer Jonathan Papelbon came on in the ninth to notch his third save, with the Phillies now seemingly on track to make a run for the N.L. East flag.