CINCINNATI -- The game between the Nationals and Reds was supposed to be a pitcher's duel, because Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto were on the mound. It did not work out that way, for the Reds defeated the Nationals, 6-3, at Great American Ball Park on Sunday afternoon. The Reds took two out of three games in the series.
It was an outing Strasburg would like to forget. He lasted 5 1/3 innings and allowed six runs on nine hits. It seemed the Reds were taking better swings whenever Strasburg was pitching out of the stretch position. He had a similar problem during Spring Training.
"I have to look at video and see what I'm doing out there," Strasburg said. "Some days, you kind of give up a lot of singles, and when they all get on base, they seem to come up with the clutch hits. You have to tip your cap and move forward."
Manager Davey Johnson was hoping Strasburg would go deep into the game, because he had to use four relievers the previous day. Strasburg ended up throwing 114 pitches.
"I figured he could give another inning, maybe two," Johnson said. "He is my horse. I liked the way he was throwing, especially with the extra-inning game on Saturday. We used a lot of guys. We got to get at least six out of him."
The game was tied at 3 when the Reds scored the winning runs in the bottom the sixth inning. With runners on first and third with no outs, Xavier Paul hit a ground ball to second baseman Danny Espinosa. Instead of going for the double play, Espinosa threw to the plate, but pinch-hitter Derrick Robinson beat the throw and slid in safely to make it a one-run game. The infield was halfway in on the play.
"The rule of thumb is, hard-hit ball, turn two," Johnson said. "You give him one run and you are out of the [inning].
Espinosa said he misunderstood what the team wanted him to do. He thought he was going to throw home to cut the lead run.
"Hard-hit ball and he takes off, I want to go home," Espinosa said. "If there is one out, I automatically turn two. The way I thought was, we were playing halfway because we were trying to cut that run down."
Shortstop Ian Desmond took some of the blame, saying he should have told Espinosa to make the double play.
"I probably should have been saying, 'Two, two, two,' getting his attention and get him to try to turn the double play," Desmond said. "As infielders, when we are out there and we see our pitcher battle, you want to stop all runs at all cost. [Great American Ball Park] has a slow track on the grass. The grass is cut a little longer than ours, and the ball took a little bit longer to get to Espi. He gets the guy at home [nine] out of 10 times."
After Joey Votto grounded out, Brandon Phillips singled to left field, scoring Shin-Soo Choo. Strasburg left the game in favor of Ryan Mattheus. Jay Bruce came to the plate and hit an infield single to Desmond that allowed Paul to score on the play.
It marked the second time the Reds were able to get to Strasburg in the game. They got off to a fast start off Strasburg in the first. With the bases loaded, Bruce doubled to left-center field, scoring Paul and Votto. Todd Frazier followed and grounded out to Espinosa at second, but Phillips scored on the play.
"It was a curveball that he left up," Bruce said about the double. "I was able to do something with it. Especially against a guy like that, you have to take what he gives you. You're going to get a whole lot to hit. With two strikes, you just have to see the ball as deeply as you can and try to put it in play."
By the top of the second inning, the Nationals tied the score at 3, thanks to a three-run homer by Kurt Suzuki. Cueto would last six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits with six strikeouts.
"I don't think Cueto had his best stuff either. He threw a lot of pitches in a short amount of time. It was the same with Stras," Johnson said. "But it's a good ballpark to hit in."
"It was a tough ballgame," Johnson added. "They have a bunch of good hitters. Stras threw the ball all right, but he didn't hit his spots when he needed to. It cost us."
The Nationals now go back home DC to play a three-game series against the White Sox.
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.