(Sports Network) - Who knows what sort of goodies Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg received yesterday for his 22nd birthday. The rookie will try to give Washington a gift this evening, when he attempts to end his club's four- game skid in the third contest of a four-game series versus the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
The top pick of the 2009 draft sandwiched the All-Star break with a pair of victories, besting San Francisco on July 9 with six innings of one-run ball before holding the Marlins to just four hits and three walks over six scoreless innings Friday in Florida. However, he needed 34 pitches to get out of the first inning in Miami.
"It's three, four times now where the first inning [Strasburg's] been up in the thirties in pitches, which makes it agonizing for everybody because we want him to be able to go six, seven innings," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. "When you throw that many [pitches] in the first it becomes unlikely, but as Stephen has done, he just got tougher and tougher as the game went along."
Strasburg struck out seven Marlin hitters, giving him 68 punchouts over 48 2/3 innings to go along with a 4-2 record and 2.03 earned run average. He will face the Reds for the first time.
The Nationals haven't won since Strasburg's last start. They were blanked in their first two games after Friday's victory and lost Monday's opener with the Reds, 7-2. They then fell behind by seven runs last night before making a game of it but falling short in an 8-7 setback.
Down 8-1, the Nats put together a six-run sixth following a near three-hour rain delay during the fifth inning. Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer and Mike Morse added a pinch-hit three-run triple in the frame.
"I thought we were right in the game," Washington's Ian Desmond told his team's website. "We were a couple of at-bats away from taking the lead or tying it."
Nationals starter Luis Atilano was limited to just four innings because of the weather and gave up five runs on five hits with three walks. Cincinnati's Mike Leake, meanwhile, ran his unbeaten streak to five starts after throwing five innings of one-run ball.
Joey Votto hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Leake also drove in a run for the Reds, who have won four of five since the All-Star break to remain a half-game behind the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. St. Louis has won seven in a row.
"It was close, but we pulled it out, and it was a nice win after a long break from the game," Leake told his club's site. "When you've got the ball in the hands of our seventh, eighth, ninth-inning guys, you've got to put all your trust in them."
The Reds haven't had any trouble putting their trust in Bronson Arroyo, who will look to win a fourth straight start this evening after extending his run Friday versus the Rockies.
He bested Colorado with seven innings of two-run, five-hit ball, improving to 5-1 with a 2.20 ERA over his last six starts and 10-4 with a 3.96 ERA overall this year.
The 33-year-old righty, who has allowed more than two runs just once over his last six outings, is 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in seven career starts versus the Nationals. He did not get a decision when he faced them on June 6, despite giving up just two runs over eight innings of his team's 5-4 victory.
The Reds took two of three in Washington from June 4-6, but it was the Nationals who took three of four at Cincinnati last season.