WASHINGTON – Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. The bear in this case being Stephen Strasburg.
The Braves slew him Saturday while Julio Teheran ably filled the role of dominant starting pitcher in a 13-0 Braves rout at Nationals Park, the first time the Nationals have been shut out this season. Teheran pitched seven innings of four-hit ball and also helped the cause with two hits and a career-high three RBIs.
“We had a tough one last night, and I think we bounced back pretty damn well today,” said Braves left fielder Nick Markakis, whose three hits included a double and a home run. “We’re looking to come out tomorrow and win one more before the break, then go enjoy the break and get ready for the second half.”
The Braves have won 13 of their past 20 games, including two of three in a four-game series that ends Sunday in the final game before the All-Star break. They lost in 10 innings Friday night when closer Jim Johnson blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning.
The Braves have a mercurial relationship with Strasburg, the Nationals’ three-time All-Star pitcher. On Saturday they had one of those days when they made Strasburg look like just another guy instead of a strikeout machine whom legendary former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones once said had the best stuff of any young pitcher in baseball.
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Strasburg (9-3) lasted three innings and left with the Braves ahead 6-0 on the way to handing the Nationals their first shutout loss of the season.
Teheran allowed just three singles, one double and two walks with five strikeouts in 96 pitches as he continued his season-long road prowess and again topped out in the mid-90s with his fastball, similar to the higher velocity he had Sunday at Oakland.
And he had his finest day at the plate, driving in three runs in his eighth two-hit game plus a sacrifice bunt.
“Everything was working today,” Teheran said. “The guys were making really good plays for me. That gets me going, I know they had my back so I was trying to do my part. The team has been playing really good and I just want to be a part of it. Today I showed it. I pitched the way I wanted to pitch.”
Teheran (7-6) is 6-0 with a 2.53 ERA in nine road starts, compared with 1-6 with a 7.58 ERA in nine starts at SunTrust Park. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six or more innings seven times in nine road starts, and only three times in nine home starts.
Strasburg gave up up seven hits, six runs (three earned) and two walks with no strikeouts in three innings.
Kurt Suzuki had a pair of RBI singles, Matt Adams added a three-run homer in the ninth inning and second baseman Brandon Phillips led one of the finest team defensive efforts of the season for the Braves, who’ve exorcised demons they encountered at Nationals Park in the past few years.
“For us to go out there and play the way we did today, we really needed that, especially after yesterday,” Phillips said. “We kept our heads up, it really shows what kind of team we are. We’re all about just grinding, not worrying about all the negative stuff, just trying to move forward. We just try to do the small things and we did that today.”
The second-place Braves are 8 1/2 games behind the Nationals, and they’re 6-6 against the Nationals after going 4-15 against them in 2016. They can clinch a second consecutive series at Nationals Park with a win Sunday.
They’ve won four of six at the ballpark this season after losing 23 of their previous 25 in the nation’s capital.
“I think right now we have confidence wherever we play,” Markakis said. “That’s half the battle is having confidence. You look at our lineup up and down, it’s no easy slouch. We played a great game today all around and we’re looking to come out tomorrow and do the same thing.”
Strasburg failed to record a strikeout for only the second time in his career and the first in a game in which he pitched more than one inning. He had double-digit strikeouts in each of his previous three starts against the Braves this season, totaling 31 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings in those outings.
Both of Teheran’s hits off Strasburg came with two outs — an RBI single in the two-run second inning and a two-run single in a four-run third inning.
Strasburg was 3-7 with a 4.61 ERA in his first 16 starts against the Braves through Sept. 10, 2014. From that point he was 7-1 with a 3.05 ERA in his past 10 starts against them before Saturday, which included eight starts in which he gave up two runs or fewer and two in which he gave up six runs apiece.
One of those six-run outings was June 12, when he had 10 strikeouts in five innings but gave up three homers in an 11-10 loss to the Braves.
There has rarely been much middle ground for Strasburg against the Braves. It’s been domination or frustration for the hard-throwing Californian. For the second time in less than four weeks, they caused him considerable frustration, and his early exit produced expected results as the Braves continued to rack up runs against one of baseball’s worst bullpens.
The first four Braves went down in order against Strasburg, but he threw a lot of pitches in that span. Then trouble started for him with a one-out double by Markakis in the second inning. Adams was intentionally walked to bring up Suzuki, who caught plenty of Strasburg’s starts when Suzuki played for the Nationals during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Suzuki singled through the left side for a 1-0 lead. And after Johan Camargo hustled to beat the relay throw to first on a potential double-play grounder, Teheran singled through the left side to drive in the second run of the inning.
The Braves batted around in a four-run second inning, with Freddie Freeman starting the offensive burst with a one-out double. Matt Kemp followed with an RBI single before Markakis hit a comebacker to the mound that hit Strasburg in the leg before he picked it up and bounced a throw past second base for an error.
One out later, Suzuki hit another run-scoring single and Camargo drew a walk to bring up Teheran, who singled up the middle this time for two RBIs and a 6-0 lead.
Freeman played his fourth game at third base and had his first error at the position when Brian Goodwin’s routine grounder bounced off Freeman’s glove with one out in the third inning. Atlanta’s defense was otherwise crisp.
Strasburg was 7-1 with a 3.05 ERA in his past 10 starts against the Braves before Saturday, but this was the second time in less than four weeks that the Braves piled up hits and runs against him. They got six runs and seven hits including three homers against him June 12 in an 11-10 Braves win at Nationals Park.