WASHINGTON (AP) — Stephen Strasburg so badly wanted to start the Washington Nationals’ first game after the break that he gave up the chance to pitch in the All-Star Game in his hometown of San Diego.
His 13th victory was a reward for that.
Strasburg allowed one run and three hits with six strikeouts in eight masterful innings as the Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 on Friday night. Strasburg (13-0) has won 16 consecutive decisions dating to September, a franchise record for starting pitchers.
“He got probably some grief by not pitching in the All-Star Game, but he was doing what he thought was best for us and for him,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Boy, that sets the tone for the rest of the series.”
Strasburg has allowed a total of five hits in three starts since coming off the disabled list on July 3. Catcher Wilson Ramos said this is the best he has ever seen Strasburg pitch, and eight innings matched the right-hander’s season high.
At the plate, Strasburg drove in what turned out to be the winning run on a sacrifice bunt attempt in the seventh inning. He reached safely because of an error by Pirates first baseman David Freese.
“I was just telling myself I’m going to stick in there,” Strasburg said. “I wasn’t going to walk away without getting it down.”
First baseman Clint Robinson, who drove in a run in the fifth, scored in the seventh on the combination of a wild pitch by reliever Neftali Feliz and a throwing error by catcher Eric Fryer. Center fielder Michael Taylor broke the game open with a two-run homer, his seventh of the season, off Feliz.
Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano (5-9) got the loss after allowing three runs and five hits in six-plus innings.
“I thought he pitched a very competitive ballgame,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s good to see him move it deeper into the game.”
Competitive wasn’t enough against the Nationals’ lineup, which was strong even without Daniel Murphy, who was scratched with a sore left hamstring. Robinson, who didn’t learn he was starting until batting practice, went 2 for 4.
“Big Robinson, he’s always ready,” Baker said. “He got some big hits for us, he tied the game up off Liriano and then he got another hit that started a rally. Clint has been a life saver for us and especially in (Ryan Zimmerman’s) absence.”
The Nationals keep chugging along atop the National League East in large part because of starting pitching. Strasburg has been the best and on Friday lowered his ERA to 2.51.
“I felt pretty good,” said Strasburg, who threw 69 of 105 pitches for strikes. “I’m trying to go out there with the same game plan, the same plan of attack and focus on executing pitches.”
Pirates: RHP Ryan Vogelsong, who has been out since May 23 when he was hit by a pitch and suffered three facial fractures, threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Double-A Altoona. … C Francisco Cervelli, who has been on the DL since June 11 with a broken bone in his wrist, doubled and singled in a rehab appearance with Triple-A Indianapolis.
Nationals: Murphy said he felt tightness in his hamstring after sliding into second base during the All-Star Game on Tuesday. The team listed him as day-to-day but he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play Saturday night. … Baker said RHP Joe Ross continues to toss but remains on the DL with no definitive timeline.
This is the Pirates’ fourth annual dad’s trip, and almost 20 fathers of people throughout the organization are taking part.
“It’s an absolute blast for everybody,” Hurdle said. “It’s kind of like revisiting Little League but backwards because then we’ve got to follow our fathers around and make sure they haven’t left stuff behind.”
Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole (5-4, 2.77 ERA) returns from the DL and starts Saturday against Nationals RHP Tanner Roark (8-5, 3.01). Cole has been out since June 11 with a strained right triceps muscle.