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Strasburg fans 10, but Nationals fall in extras

Strasburg fans 10, but Nationals fall in extras

WASHINGTON -- In front of a sellout crowd at Nationals Park, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg set a record for most strikeouts through three starts to begin a career.

But the rookie phenom ended up with a no-decision as Alex Rios' single in the top of the 11th inning off reliever Drew Storen helped the White Sox defeat the Nationals, 2-1, in front of 40,325 fans on Friday night.

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With two outs in the 11th, Rios hit a 2-1 pitch down the third-base line. Ryan Zimmerman made an impressive diving stop, but was unable to get Rios at first as the ball went past first baseman Adam Dunn, allowing Mark Kotsay to score the go-ahead run from third base.

"It was a tough play, tough game," Zimmerman said. "Stras threw great. It was a good baseball game."

The highlight of the game was Strasburg, who lasted seven innings, allowed one run on four hits, struck out 10 batters and walked none. He threw 85 pitches and felt he could have gone longer. But as his custom, manager Jim Riggleman wanted to go with the back end of the bullpen, which includes Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps. Those relievers have done the job all season.

"I definitely wanted to go out there to finish the game out, but there is a bigger picture here," Strasburg said. "The bullpen came in and kept us in scoring distance. We just didn't get the job done today."

The first inning wasn't an easy one for the young righty. Juan Pierre led off and beat out an infield single, with Strasburg slow covering first base after Pierre hit a ground ball to Dunn. Omar Vizquel followed and blooped a double to right field to put runners on second and third with no outs.

"Riggs has been preaching fundamentals and I didn't get over [to first base] in time in the first inning. It probably should have been an out there," Strasburg said. "It's little things like that. Up here, they are going to exploit it. I'll see the play next time.

"With Pierre's speed, it's got to be an instant reaction and get over there. I kind of took just a split-second to read where the ball was going and he had an extra step. That's how much he beat me."

But Strasburg escaped after yielding just one run, on an Rios groundout to Dunn that plated Pierre. He then struck out Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin swinging to end the threat.

Strasburg needed only nine pitches to retire the White Sox in order in the second. After A. J. Pierzynski grounded out and Alexei Ramirez flied out, Strasburg was able to strike out Gordon Beckham on a 100-mph fastball.

The third was just as easy for Strasburg, who struck out counterpart Gavin Floyd and Pierre. Vizquel ended the inning by grounding out to second baseman Cristian Guzman.

Strasburg followed with a 1-2-3 fourth, fanning Rios and Quentin around a Konerko flyout.

In the fifth, Strasburg set the record for most strikeouts in three starts to begin a career with his whiff of Ramirez, the 30th of the emerging ace's early resume and eighth of the game, putting him ahead of the 29 former Astros hurler J.R. Richard amassed through his first three starts. Strikeout No. 31 came via the next hitter, as Beckham went down swinging to end the frame, the 15th straight White Sox hitter to go down against Strasburg.

"That's never going to be a goal of mine," Strasburg said about the record. "My goal is to go out there and help the team win. It's about wins and losses at this level. You can go out there and strike everybody out. But at the end of the day, if you don't keep your team in striking distance, what does that all matter?"

Washington's young starter picked up strikeout No. 10 in the seventh, getting Ramirez again on an 83-mph hook.

"I went out there to pound the strike zone with all my pitches over the plate," Strasburg said. "Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] called a great game, but that it's to be expected."

Pierre and Konerko came away impressed with what they saw from Strasburg.

"It was just a heavyweight bout tonight," Pierre said. "He's real good. He's the kind of guy when you face you have to straight-up battle, throw all kinds of techniques out the window, pitches to look for, none of that. Get something decent and try to put a good swing on it."

"He's good. Honestly, his stuff reminds me a lot of [Mark] Prior when he first came up," Konerko said. "But he throws a tick or two harder, and the changeup is what puts him over the top. I don't know what he calls it, but it's like a split or changeup, and that's a whole different ball of wax when he can do that, when you're throwing that to righties and lefties. Command is great, stuff is great. He's the whole package. I still got a fastball to hit in every at-bat. He's a power guy, and you have to get it going, but he's the whole package. There's nothing he doesn't have."

Floyd was just as good as Strasburg. Floyd pitched eight solid innings and allowed a run on four hits. Strasburg was on the hook for the loss before Zimmerman scored on a double by Dunn to tie the game at 1.

But Washington couldn't do anything on offense before and after the run was scored. In the last four games, the Nats have scored 11 runs and struck out 44 times.

Hitting coach Rick Eckstein acknowledged that the team is not getting the big hit, but declined to say the team is pressing at the plate.

"We have hit the ball hard at times, but, all and all, but we are not putting those at-bats together," Eckstein said. "There are times we have swung it OK and at times, we could have done a better job. In the last inning [Friday], we lined out twice. It seems when we try to get something going, it's hit at somebody. That's the nature of the beast. We just have to keep hitting the ball hard, eventually, we'll find the hole and get going again."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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