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Second Harper homer lone bright spot for Nats in loss

WASHINGTON – Stepping back into the batter’s box after an eight-minute rain delay to face Stephen Strasburg with a full count, two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the first inning, San Diego’s John Baker guessed what was coming.

Fastball.

Baker smacked the first pitch after play resumed back up the middle for a two-run single, part of his three-hit, three-RBI afternoon. Will Venable produced four hits, and San Diego knocked Strasburg out after four innings Tuesday, matching the second-shortest appearance of his 25-start career, in the Padres’ 6-1 victory over the Washington Nationals.

The only bright spot for Washington: Bryce Harper, a Las Vegas High School and College of Southern Nevada product, hit his second major league home run.

San Diego right-hander Anthony Bass (2-4), making his 10th start in the majors, tied his longest outing by going eight innings. He allowed five hits and one run, on Harper’s homer to right-center, the 19-year-old outfielder’s second consecutive game with a solo shot.

But Harper’s effort wasn’t enough to match Baker, who appreciated the challenge Strasburg presented.

“One of the things I respect the most about Strasburg is that he pitches you like a man. He comes at you with the fastball. It’s kind of old school,” Baker said. “You’ve got to be ready to hit that – and if you’re not ready, then he’s going to bury you.”

Strasburg (3-1) dealt with various issues: a leadoff double that fell in with three defensive players nearby, starting San Diego’s three-run first inning; the brief shower that interrupted that inning; a soggy ball and rosin bag; and a not-quite-clear matter involving what manager Davey Johnson said was some Hot Stuff penetrating ointment that accidentally “got to the wrong place.”

“It was on his shoulder and evidently – I don’t know how it got to where it got, but it was uncomfortable, to say the least,” Johnson said with a chuckle.

Asked about it, Strasburg said: “I’m going to keep that in the clubhouse.”

And the other problems?

“As far as the rain, it’s tough with them calling it when the count’s 3-and-2 with the bases loaded,” Strasburg said. “Obviously you’ve got to throw a fastball over the plate. I got a groundball; it just made it through the hole.”

Bass struck out seven and walked one before giving way to reliever Andrew Cashner for the ninth. Cashner struck out Harper swinging at a 101 mph pitch to end the game.

“Now we’re seeing more of a pitcher,” Padres manager Bud Black said about Bass. “You’re seeing off-speed behind in the count. You’re seeing a guy changing speeds, moving the fastball in and out.”

Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa, who went 0-for-3, said it’s rarely easy facing a pitcher for the first time.

“Until you get up there and get an idea of what kind of life he has on his fastball, and what his changeup and slider are like, you don’t have a true sense of how you need to react to the pitch,” Espinosa said. “He had everything going today.”

Venable led off the game with a seemingly harmless blooper off Strasburg that dropped in for a double as left fielder Roger Bernadina, center fielder Rick Ankiel and shortstop Ian Desmond watched it fall.

“I should have caught that ball,” Bernadina said.

Said Black: “That was a break, no doubt about it, and we took advantage of it. … That got the Nationals on their heels a little bit, and we drove Strasburg’s pitch count up.”

After a walk, Yonder Alonso hit an RBI single, and then Baker’s single made the score 3-0.

All told, it was a slog of an opening inning for Strasburg, who needed 39 pitches to get three outs. Including the rain delay and a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty, that half-inning lasted 25 minutes.

James Darnell’s first homer of the season, a solo shot in the third, made the score 4-0.

Strasburg gave up four runs and seven hits. He walked two and struck out five, and his ERA rose from 1.64 to 2.25.

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