WASHINGTON -- A day after the Nationals' offense relied on its speed and stole a team-record seven bases, it broke out its power Wednesday night against the pitcher who has given up the most homers in the National League. Washington hit three home runs off Cubs right-hander John Lackey --
WASHINGTON -- A day after the Nationals' offense relied on its speed and stole a team-record seven bases, it broke out its power Wednesday night against the pitcher who has given up the most homers in the National League. Washington hit three home runs off Cubs right-hander John Lackey -- increasing his total to 24 homers allowed -- to cruise to an 8-4 victory at Nationals Park.
Stephen Strasburg turned in one of his sharpest outings of the season as he tossed seven innings of three-run ball and struck out 13, the third-highest strikeout total of his career.
"He had it going on tonight," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You could just sort of tell when he left last night that he was going to be ready today. He had that kind of look in his eyes."
Strasburg did experience some back spasms before the fourth inning, although he pitched through it. He received some treatment after he completed his start and said after the game that his back had improved.
"It felt like I was physically in a good spot," Strasburg said. "Kind of last couple warm starts, I was kind of really feeling the effects of it. I talked to the strength coach and we've got a good program going in. So I felt really, physically, where I needed to be based on the hydration and all that stuff leading up to the start."
Chicago's offense was held in check for the most part, though Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo hit homers in the fourth and eighth innings, respectively.
The Cubs were also dealt a potential blow in the fifth inning, when third baseman and reigning NL MVP Award winner Kristopher Bryant suffered a mild to moderate right ankle sprain when he awkwardly stepped on the third-base bag after catching a popup. He could not put any weight on his leg and had to be helped off the field by the team's training staff. X-rays were negative and Bryant is day to day.
"It's unfortunate," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Hopefully, it'll just be a couple days. ... Let's keep moving it forward and hope it's not too bad."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Homer-prone: This was the third time Lackey has surrendered three home runs in a game this season, and it started when Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters began the second inning with back-to-back homers in what would eventually become a four-run inning for Washington.
"Just jumped on the strikes that we can hit and got some balls in the gaps and through the holes," said Bryce Harper, who had two doubles and drove in two runs. "We were just able to connect on some pitches and did a good job."
The Nats' second inning decided the game, Lackey said. He gave up four runs on four hits in that frame, and was tagged for eight runs over 5 1/3 innings. According to Statcast™, the Nats swung and missed at two of Lackey's total 92 pitches.
"You have to be pretty precise and pitch pretty well against these guys, and I wasn't able to do that," Lackey said.
Said Maddon: "Any time he was trying to go in a certain spot, it seemed the ball was going back to the middle. I think the pitches were flat. That's what I thought I was seeing from the side, which led to more contact."
Cubs strike in fifth before Nats pull away: Even after falling behind early, the Cubs pulled within striking distance in the fifth inning. Albert Almora Jr. doubled to start the inning and scored after Ryan Zimmerman could not handle a grounder from Mark Zagunis that cut the Nats' lead to 6-3. But Strasburg dialed in and held the score there, inducing a groundout from Rizzo and striking out Bryant.
Then, the Nats tacked on in the bottom of the inning when Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer to make the lead 7-3 and extend his hitting streak to 12 consecutive games.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Lackey's 24 homers are the third most allowed by a Cubs starter before the All-Star break behind Fergie Jenkins (29 in 1973) and Kevin Tapani (25 in 2000).
Nationals first-base coach Davey Lopes left the team to attend to a family emergency prior to Wednesday's game, and the club was not sure when he would return. Jacque Jones, the assistant hitting coach, filled in as first-base coach in Lopes' absence.
"We just need to play up to the level that we're capable of playing and to be healthy, honestly. Right now, we've got a lot of guys watching the games who we need in the lineup." -- Lackey
Cubs:Jonathan Lester will close the Cubs' series against the Nationals on Thursday. Lester threw his third consecutive quality start in his last outing. He's 2-3 with a 5.49 ERA on the road. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT.
Nationals:Joe Ross will start Thursday's series finale against the Cubs at 4:05 p.m. ET. Ross will be looking to build off a strong start last time out, seven innings of one-run ball, as he searches for some consistency this season.
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Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.