MLB Insiders: Washington Nationals

The Pirates open a two-game series in Washington on Wednesday night. Lefty Erik Bedard will pitch for the Bucs. The Nats will toss lefty Gio Gonzalez.

The Washington Nationals still haven't lost back-to-back home games, and sending Gio Gonzalez to the mound should give them a great chance to make sure that holds true Wednesday night.

Gonzalez has given up just one run over three outings at Nationals Park, a start he'll look to continue as the Nationals and Pirates get together for the second time in a week.

Stephen Strasburg gets the most attention in the Nationals' major league-best rotation (2.55 ERA), but it's Gonzalez (4-1, 1.94) who has the staff's lowest ERA after Strasburg struggled in Tuesday's 6-1 loss to San Diego.

Gonzalez wasn't at his best Friday in Cincinnati, laboring through five innings while allowing five hits and four walks. But he held the Reds to two runs in the 7-3 win and struck out a season-high nine, including one that eventually allowed him to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.

Washington has won every time Gonzalez has started in the nation's capital, and only a Brad Lidge blown save has kept him from being 3-0. Gonzalez has gone seven innings in each home outing, surrendering a run for the first time in a 7-1 victory over Philadelphia on May 5.

Opponents are hitting .114 at home against Gonzalez, who leads the majors with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and will be looking to run the Nats' record in D.C. to 5-0 after a loss.

Gonzalez didn't face Pittsburgh (17-19) last week at PNC Park as the Pirates took two of three. He allowed a solo homer and three other hits over six innings in his lone start against Pittsburgh while with Oakland on June 27, 2010.

Erik Bedard (2-4, 2.57) faced the Nationals (22-14) last Wednesday, but he didn't last long. The left-hander exited after one inning with back spasms, and had his scheduled Monday start pushed back two days.

He's fared well against Washington in the past, posting a 1.35 ERA and striking out 30 in 20 innings.

The Nationals went with a righty-heavy approach against Bedard last week - Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche were the only left-handed hitters in Davey Johnson's lineup - and might want to follow a similar pattern Wednesday. Right-handers are hitting .299 off Bedard, while lefties are 2 for 25 with nine strikeouts.

Washington is hitting .208 against left-handers - the second-worst mark in the NL.

It was very unusual to see Nationals' starter Stephen Strasburg allow three runs in the first inning.

Strasburg had allowed three runs only once before in seven previous starts this season, so to see it happen in the first frame had to be a shocking circumstance.

A dropped fly ball off the bat of the first hitter of the game, two walks and an eight-minute rain delay, coupled with a two-run single by John Baker of the Padres set the tone for a rough outing by Strasburg standards.

Manager Davey Johnson said that despite the shortened weather delay, the wet conditions made for a sloppy first inning for Strasburg.

"All the balls Strasburg was getting were wet," Johnson said. "That is why he kept going to the rosin bag, as it was wet. One thing led to another."

Strasburg said it was difficult to grip the baseball in the first inning downpour.

"The ball is soaking wet up to the second to last hitter I faced that inning," Strasburg said. "You are just trying to guide it in there. When they finally call it, it is almost like I don't have any margin for error."

A 39-pitch first inning set the tone for the shortest stint of the season for Strasburg. He managed only four innings and finished with 81 pitches. That is when Johnson decided to pull him in what turned out to be a 6-1 defeat.

"It was just tough conditions all around," Strasburg said. "It was one of those games where you go out there and do your best to overcome the obstacles and sometimes you just can't get out of it the way you want to."

The Padres did a good job of making contact against Strasburg, getting at least one hit in each of the first four innings.

"I thought after the third inning, minus the home run, I pretty much settled down and started to locate the ball much better," Strasburg said.

The loss was certainly not pleasing to Strasburg, but finding a way to gut through bad field conditions or defensive miscues are lessons all top of the line veteran starters must endure.

Notes, Quotes

RF Bryce Harper did it again, hitting hit his second solo home run in as many days at Nationals Park. The home run was the only offense for the Nationals on a tough day at the plate, but was another signal that the 19-year old is getting into gear with his power game. His second home run of his career was to right-center field on a 1-and-0 count from Padres starter Anthony Bass, the only run the right-hander allowed in eight innings.

The Nationals called up C Carlos Maldonado from Triple-A Syracuse to replace injured C Sandy Leon (high right ankle sprain). "We are fortunate to have that many quality receivers in the system," manager Davey Johnson said of Maldonado and catching depth in the organization.

To make room for C Carlos Maldonado, the Nationals transferred C Wilson Ramos (torn ACL right knee) from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list.

No trouble again for SS Ian Desmond offensively against San Diego. Desmond was 2-for-4 and finished 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and two RBI in the series, to raise his average to .277.

LHP Tom Gorzelanny pitched three innings after RHP Stephen Strasburg went only four. Gorzelanny allowed one run on two hits with a walk and three strikeouts, demonstrating the long relief capability that manager Davey Johnson had envisioned for the veteran in his bullpen.

By The Numbers:

4—Number of runs Stephen Strasburg allowed on Tuesday against San Diego. In his eight previous starts this season, Strasburg had allowed three runs or more only one other time this season, against the Phillies on May 4 (three earned runs).

Quote To Note:

"To start a game like that gives them extra momentum. It gives them extra life." —Manager Davey Johnson, OF Roger Bernadina dropping a pop fly in left field off the bat of the Padres' Will Venable. San Diego went on to score three runs in the first inning.

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