WASHINGTON (AP) — By the time Stephen Strasburg reached back and threw a 96 mph fastball for a strikeout to end the top of the seventh with his 106th pitch, his usual first-inning struggles seemed long ago — and his day seemed over.
When the next inning rolled around Wednesday, though, Nationals manager Matt Williams sent Strasburg to the mound to face the top of the Dodgers' order in what would become a 3-2 victory for Washington, the first time this season the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft pitched into the eighth.
"He's our horse," Williams said, indicating he'd like to keep his ace in deep into games more often.
"We don't want to do that every time," Williams added. "But in a game like today, he's got the lead and (you) want to show confidence in him that we're willing to send him back out there to protect that lead."
Said Strasburg, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA: "That's the position I want to be in."
After waiting through a rain delay of more than 1½ hours to throw his first pitch, the righty did what he's done all season: labored to get the first three outs, then been fairly dominant. This time, he gave up four consecutive singles, including run-scoring hits by Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig, during a 28-pitch first as Los Angeles went ahead 2-0.
"I've been trying not to go out there and give up a crooked number early," Strasburg said. "But you can give up one or two early and just keep it close and give your guys a chance to get back into the ballgame or get the lead."
He's allowed eight earned runs in his eight first innings in 2014, a 9.00 ERA.
From the second inning on, it's 2.29.
"He's as good as anybody on any given day. We've also seen that anybody can get beat on any given day," Williams said. "We want to get him to that point where he can finish that eighth inning, too. That's important for him."
In all, Strasburg allowed two runs and seven hits — all singles — in 7 1-3 innings. He faced the minimum three batters in each of the second through fifth innings, and threw a total of 114 pitches.
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