Stephen Strasburg comes back big, but so do Dodgers in 7-3 victory

Even though Stephen Strasburg hadn’t pitched in more than a year, Andre Ethier compared facing him Tuesday night to facing Felix Hernandez or an in-form Ubaldo Jimenez. Rod Barajas marveled at how Strasburg had a changeup and curveball to complement a fastball that reached 99 mph.

But there was at least one player in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park who said he wasn’t impressed by the supposed once-in-a-lifetime pitching prospect.

“I think he’s someone that the Nationals should probably trade to us,” Ted Lilly said.


The Dodgers came from behind to beat the Nationals, 7-3, but the outcome was of minimal interest to anyone unaffiliated with the teams. For the rest of the baseball world, the story of the night was how the 23-year-old Strasburg marked his return from Tommy John elbow surgery by holding the Dodgers to two hits over five otherwise perfect innings.

“It’s a big milestone that I’ve accomplished here,” Strasburg said. “It’s something that, as soon as I went under the knife, my goal was to pitch in the big leagues in 2011. I’ve been able to do that.”

Strasburg’s comeback was nearly postponed because of weather. Rain fell for most of Tuesday and was forecast for the entire night.

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson sounded as if he might scratch Strasburg even if it didn’t rain during the game, saying he didn’t want to send him to the mound in less-than-ideal conditions or if there was a chance of a rain delay cutting short his appearance.

But at 7:10 p.m. EDT, Strasburg stood on the mound, wound up and fired a 96-mph fastball that was fouled back by Dee Gordon.

Strasburg conceded a double to Gordon, then proceeded to retire the next 11 batters.

His fastball regularly registering at 94-97 mph on the stadium scoreboard, Strasburg hit 99 in the second inning on a three-pitch strikeout of Aaron Miles.

The last of the 11 consecutive batters he retired was Matt Kemp, who struck out flailing helplessly at a wicked changeup in the fourth inning.

“Have I seen guys who throw harder than him or seem that the ball comes faster? Yeah, I have,” Rod Barajas said. “I think what makes him special are the secondary pitches. Everybody knows he has that good curveball and he’s got that great changeup also.”

But Manager Don Mattingly said the Dodgers were to blame for the zeros on the scoreboard, pointing out his hitters were reluctant to take pitches.

Seven of the first nine batters Strasburg faced swung at the first pitch.

“Definitely not by design,” Mattingly said. “You can’t be afraid to hit with a strike on you. You have to be able to see a fastball and work off of that.”

Barajas said that had something to do with the magnitude of the event.

“You want to face the best, you want to see what all the talk’s about,” Barajas said. “I’m sure everybody felt the same way. They wanted to get out there, swing the bat and try to do something special.”

That special something had to wait until after Strasburg was removed from the game with his pitch count at 56 and the Nationals leading, 3-0.

“You can take a sigh of relief after you get a guy who’s cruising in the game out because of a pitch count,” Ethier said.

The Dodgers tied it in the sixth inning with major league debutant Brad Peacock on the mound. Kemp drove in a run and Ethier singled in two.

A two-run double by Barajas off Henry Rodriguez in the eighth inning moved the Dodgers ahead, 5-3.

Another two-run double, by Ethier, added a couple of insurance runs in the ninth.

The victory was the Dodgers’ 12th in 15 games.

“It’s something that’s bittersweet,” Ethier said of how the team might have finally found its identity now that it’s out of contention.

Short hops

The Dodgers called up three players from triple-A Albuquerque: catcher Tim Federowicz, outfielder Jerry Sands and right-hander John Ely. The promotion to the majors was Federowicz’s first. The 24-year-old was acquired from the Boston Red Sox at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline in a deal involving the Seattle Mariners. . . . Casey Blake underwent neck surgery to decrease the pressure on a pinched nerve. The third baseman was expected to be hospitalized overnight and in a neck brace for a couple of weeks.