Published January 13, 2015
Stephen Strasburg was keeping the Detroit Tigers in check through five innings, holding their potent lineup to only one run. The young right-hander made one mistake — leaving a fastball out over the plate — and Alex Avila took advantage.
Avila hit a tiebreaking grand slam in the sixth, lifting Detroit to a 5-1 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
"I pitched well, minus one pitch," Strasburg said. "That was supposed to be a fastball away, but it came back over the plate and he put a good swing on it."
Strasburg (5-9) allowed five runs, six hits and three walks while striking out seven over seven innings.
"I thought he pitched great," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He just made one mistake and Avila crushed it. Until that inning, the way he was cruising, I thought we might get nine innings out of him."
Strasburg is 0-3 in his last four starts in which his teammates have scored a combined nine runs.
"When things are going like they have been lately, you know that there isn't much margin for error," he said.
Strasburg has given up at least four earned runs in three of his last five outings, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his team was fortunate to have a good night against him.
"That's as good of stuff as you're going to see," Leyland said.
Anibal Sanchez (9-7) gave up one run, five hits and two walks over seven innings for Detroit. Jose Veras, a day after being acquired from Houston, was perfect in the eighth in his Tigers debut. Joaquin Benoit, who will keep his job as the team's closer, gave up one hit in the ninth inning.
The AL Central-leading Tigers have won four straight and eight of nine to move 15 games over .500 for the first time this season.
Washington started strong, scoring a run on three hits in the first against Sanchez. Bryce Harper led off with a triple and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's single. The Nationals, though, couldn't get much else going offensively against Sanchez, who has given up two earned runs combined in his last three starts.
"Sanchez is always tough on us," Johnson said. "I didn't even think he had great stuff. He hung some sliders that we didn't capitalize on. We just didn't do anything against him, and that's what always happens with him. What is he now against us? 9-1?"
Sanchez is in fact 9-1 in his career against the Nationals, and with a 1.99 ERA he leads all pitchers who have made at least 15 starts against them.
Miguel Cabrera faced Strasburg for the first time in the regular season with two outs and a runner on base in the first and he hit a 2-0 pitch sharply up the middle for a single, but was stranded when Victor Martinez hit an inning-ending flyout.
Andy Dirks hit a game-tying double in the fourth inning and if a fan, sitting in the front row along the third-base line, didn't field the ball with his glove, the Tigers might've gone ahead. Jhonny Peralta was sent back to third base after scoring, and Avila ended the inning with a flyout.
The catcher made up for the missed opportunity a few innings later, sending Strasburg's 2-1 pitch deep into the right-field seats to give the Tigers a 5-1 lead.
"When you're facing a guy like Strasburg, you may get one pitch all game to do something," Avila said.
NOTES: Johnson said pitching coach Steve McCatty, a Detroit native, was still in a hospital, two days after he was taken there to treat an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. He is expected to be released Wednesday. "Just being really careful with him," Johnson said. ... Johnson said he doesn't expect the Nationals to make a trade before the non-waiver deadline. ... Detroit RHP Justin Verlander (10-8) is scheduled to start against Washington LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3) on Wednesday afternoon in the series finale. ... The Nationals, who swept a two-game series against Detroit at home in May, fell to 0-4 at Comerica Park.