It was the second consecutive Strasburg start in which Washington lost a game despite a stellar performance from the big righty. On Friday, Washington lost the phenom's third start, 2-1, to the White Sox.
After setting a record with 32 strikeouts in his first three starts, Strasburg broke another in his fourth. The Nats rookie struck out Royals left fielder Scott Podsednik in the sixth for his ninth strikeout of the day, and 41st of his career, passing Indians left-hander Herb Score for the most strikeouts in the first four starts of a career. Score was Rookie of the Year in 1955.
Strasburg allowed a career-high nine hits and one walk over six innings, and he left with his Nats trailing thanks to Jose Guillen, who singled in David DeJesus from third with two outs in the fifth inning.
"For the most part, I went out there and threw strikes," Strasburg said. "A couple mistakes, but they didn't really hit the ball hard except for a couple of times, they just found the holes. You know, that's baseball."
With the count 0-2, Strasburg said he was trying to make Guillen swing at a high pitch, but the ball did something else.
"I tried to elevate the ball instead of just trusting it and throwing it to [Ivan Rodriguez's] glove," Strasburg said. "I kind of pushed it a little bit, and it ended up causing me to do the opposite. It wasn't a bad pitch, but Guillen was on it."
Guillen came away impressed with what he saw from the rookie phenom.
"That kid has some pretty good stuff," said the former Nationals outfielder, who played with the club in 2005 and '06. "I'm not saying the best stuff I've ever seen, but it's pretty good stuff. He still has a long way to go to learn how to pitch in those counts. His fastball, his slider, his changeup -- every pitch is unbelievable. He has everything. He pitched great. He just made a few mistakes."
Royals right-hander Brian Bannister wasn't as overpowering as Strasburg, but he had a better outing, pitching six scoreless innings.
"He had a sinker, cutter and curveball. He kept us off balance," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "[Hitting] is something we should be doing a lot better and we know that. We'll work hard and go from there -- kind of forget about this past week and move on."
The Nationals had chances to score off Bannister. In the fifth inning, Washington had runners on second and third with no outs. Adam Kennedy came to the plate and hit a grounder to first baseman Billy Butler, who booted the ball. But Josh Willingham, who was on third, didn't score on the play. He was halfway toward home plate, but retreated back to third.
"Obviously, had I known he was going to bobble it, I would have kept going," Willingham said.
Said Nats manager Jim Riggleman: "It's just another unfortunate thing that happened in the game, which seems to occur in the last few weeks."
An inning later, it looked as if the Nationals were going to tie the score. With runners on first and second with one out, Adam Dunn singled to right off Bannister, and Roger Bernadina tried to score, but he was thrown out by Guillen on a close play.
"I didn't know I still had an arm," Guillen said. "It kind of surprised me. It's a God-given talent, and when you have it, you have it. You just kind of let it go and I got to use it in the right spot, the right situation to save the game. It was great -- a great win, and we avoided the sweep."
No one on the Nationals argued the call, but the replay showed that Bernadina could have been safe at the plate.
From his view, Riggleman felt Bernadina was out, and Willingham, who was near the on-deck hitter, didn't get a good view of the play. According to Bernadina, home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt told him that the ball beat him to the plate. Wendelstedt was not available for comment.
"We could have tied the game, and it would have probably be a different game," Bernadina said. "I [was shocked], because you want to score on that moment. He called me out. I didn't ask the umpire much about it. I asked him if I beat it out. He said, 'No,' and I went back in the dugout."
Even Kansas City catcher Jason Kendall sounded like he wasn't sure if he got the tag down in time.
"I don't know. I just put my glove in front of the ball," Kendall said. "It kind of took a bounce, so I had to catch it, turn back around and put my glove in front of the bag. I haven't seen it or looked at it. Someone told me they looked at it a few times and couldn't tell if it was out of safe."
As far as Strasburg performances goes, he got off to a good start by striking out Podsednik on a 1-2 fastball to open the game. Butler struck out to start the second inning. The Royals then put two men on with a pair of singles before Strasburg worked his way out of it by inducing two popups.
Bannister struck out to start the third, and Butler struck out for the second time to end the inning.
Strasburg collected his first Major League hit in the bottom of the third, a single to left off Bannister.
Strasburg struck out the side in the fourth: Alberto Callaspo watched strike three for the first out. Yuniesky Betancourt followed with a swinging strikeout, then Bannister struck out again.
Although he pitched well, Strasburg didn't seem to be worried about the lack of support. He believes the offense will come around.
"They're really trying hard out there -- it's just that things didn't go our way today," Strasburg said. "I know there's going to be times where it's going to be like this in the future, and there's going to be times where I'm just not pitching well at all and they just go out there and score a ton of runs save me. It's baseball."