WASHINGTON -- In the fifth inning of the Nationals' loss to the Braves on Monday night, Stephen Strasburg got into a predictable rhythm and Braves outfielder Justin Upton took notice. Upton went for the steal and was halfway to second base before the ball even left Strasburg's hand.
Freddie Freeman followed with a single, scoring Upton to give the Braves a 2-1 lead in what became a 3-2 victory for Atlanta.
"It happens," Strasburg said dismissively after the game. "You get caught in having a predictable time to home plate, and he took a gamble. Three-and-0 hacking, they went up the middle. It is what it is."
The play was indicative of a larger trend that has haunted the Nationals this season: an inability to hold runners and a tendency to give up stolen bases. Entering Tuesday, the Nationals had only thwarted 10 stolen-base attempts all season and allowed 73 steals, the third most in the National League.
Washington's caught-stealing percentage (12) is by far the lowest in the Major Leagues. The next lowest is the Angels' 20 percent, and the Major League average this season is 28 percent.
"It's a tough thing," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "You've got a lot of runners that nowadays they don't run unless they know they're going to be safe, so it puts you in a tough spot. All we can do is keep working on it. If you try to rush it and stuff, you start making errors, so you can't try to change too much."
The catchers are partially to blame, as their throws to second base have sometimes been off target. Suzuki has thrown out six runners while allowing 49 steals. Wilson Ramos has thrown out four and given up 18 steals.
However, manager Davey Johnson said most of the problem stems from the pitching staff. Opponents have stolen 12 bases with Strasburg on the mound and 11 against Jordan Zimmermann. Reliever Drew Storen was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse last month in part because of his slow time to the plate.
"Stras has probably given up a whole bunch because he's pretty much set in his timing, but some guys are very slow," Johnson said. "We had that problem last year, the same thing. We spent a lot of time in the spring going over how to be a little quicker, but basically, they're stealing off our pitching."
Suzuki added that there's only so much you can change without disrupting a pitcher's performance.
"You don't want to do that, get out of their comfort zone and then leave a pitch over the middle of the plate and it's hit for a homer," he said. "So it gets tough, but you try to do the best you can."
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.