VIERA, Fla. -- It looked like Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg was going to have his best outing of the spring on Monday afternoon, but he ended up taking the loss as the Braves won the game, 7-2, at Space Coast Stadium.
Strasburg was dominant in the first five innings, allowing no runs on one hit. He was so efficient that manager Davey Johnson allowed Strasburg to pitch the sixth inning, which is when the Braves scored six runs.
With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Justin Upton singled to left field to drive in Reed Johnson and Tyler Pastornicky. Two batters later, left-hander Zach Duke was in the game for Washington, and he couldn't stop the bleeding, allowing RBI hits to B.J. Upton, Ernesto Mejia and Blake Dewitt to make it a 6-0 game, with four of the runs charged to Strasburg.
Strasburg said he had problems keeping the ball down while pitching in the stretch during the sixth inning. Strasburg wants to hold runners better, and that means getting better while pitching in the stretch.
"I had a tough time holding runners, so I changed the way I set up in the stretch," Strasburg said. "I kind of got in between what I was working on and what I've done in the past. It's just being comfortable out there and getting the right feeling. Early on, I had the right feeling, and it started to go away, and I started missing more of my spots left and right and not throwing enough strikes."
Although Strasburg was charged with four runs, manager Davey Johnson was pleased that Strasburg became the first Nationals pitcher to go at least five innings.
"I thought he threw the ball great," Johnson said. "He threw about  pitches, which stretched him out, and that was great. I thought he pitched very well. He'll have another one where he throws that many pitches, and he'll be about right."
There were a lot of positives to take out of this game, according to Strasburg.
"Curveball is a lot better than it was last year. I'm starting to throw it from both sides of the plate," Strasburg said. "The fastball was pretty much there all day. The sinkers are getting better every time out."
Besides getting arm strength before the regular season starts, Strasburg wants to be himself on the mound.
"There are going to be games where you just really can't throw anything where you want to and you just have to battle," Strasburg said. "The biggest thing is to not try to reinvent the wheel every time you have a bad outing. I have to keep on fine-tuning everything and stay where I'm at."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.