By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's bats have been one of the many strong points during the early part of the baseball season, but the Rams needed to do little swinging when they played host to Bull Run District foe Rappahannock County on Friday night.
Strasburg managed just four hits against the Panthers, but the Rams were able to work 10 walks in a 12-2 win shortened to five innings due to the mercy rule.
"That's a part of offensive baseball, is being able to be a little selective and know what you're dealing with there in terms of how aggressive you can be," Rams coach Jeff Smoot said. "Give our guys a little credit for that."
Strasburg's patience at the plate paid off in the very first inning, as a hit-by-pitch and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out for Rams No. 5 hitter Zach McDonald. The sophomore didn't need to lift the bat off his shoulders, as Rappahannock County starter Evan Hitt dealt McDonald four straight balls to walk in the Rams' first run and tie the game at 1-1.
Strasburg (7-0, 2-0 Bull Run) managed another run in the bottom of the first on hustle play by junior Tyler Doman, who scored from second base on a fielder's choice groundout to give the Rams a 2-1 lead.
The lead was enough for Strasburg starting pitcher Ryan Murphy, who picked up his second win of the season with a four-inning performance. Murpy, a junior, allowed an unearned run in the first inning before shutting the Panthers down over the next three frames.
Murphy allowed just three hits while striking out seven batters and didn't allow a walk.
"I just tried to locate my pitches, trying the work the counts," Murphy said. "And my curveball was working for me. [Working ahead] was really important, I was trying to give our fielders a break by just getting ahead in the counts."
Murphy's performance on Friday was just the latest in what has been a steady string of strong starting pitching efforts for the Rams this season. Strasburg has allowed just seven runs in its last four games.
"We've pitched well. That's been a constant in about every game," Smoot said. "About every time we've run somebody out there, they've given us a quality start. But we've also swung the bats really well. We've been able to score some runs and produce a little bit in there offensively. At this point I guess we would have to kind of feel like we've gotten off to a good start in a lot of different aspects of the game."
Strasburg sent two more runs across the plate in the bottom of the second inning as No. 9 hitter Noah St. Clair (1-for-1, RBI, two walks) delivered an RBI double to left field, followed later in the inning by an RBI groundout by sophomore Ryan Smoot that extended Strasburg's lead to 4-1.
The Rams delivered the decisive blow in the third inning, when they sent 13 batters to the plate and scored eight runs to put the game securely out of reach.
After Hitt got McDonald to strike out looking to begin the inning, the junior allowed a single to Rams junior Ian Baker, who scored on a Panthers fielding error two batters later. Todd Dean drew a walk with the bases loaded to score another Rams run, ending Hitt's day on the mound.
The junior went 2 1/3 innings, allowing nine runs on two hits and eight walks.
"[Hitt] didn't have his good stuff tonight. He's pitched real well. He's a better pitcher than what he showed tonight," Panthers coach Mike Atkins said. "[Strasburg] is a good ball club, certainly one of the better teams in the Bull Run. We were a couple of plays from being competitive with them, and that's what we're looking for."
Panthers (3-4, 0-3) reliever Garfield Burke immediately dealt a walk to Ryan Smoot to score another run, and Doman's two-RBI single gave the Rams a 10-1 lead. Murphy provided the exclamation for Strasburg in the inning, as his two-RBI single down the third-base line gave the Rams an 11-run lead.
Sophomore Garrett Richards pitched the top of the fifth inning for Strasburg, allowing an unearned run on one hit and a walk.
Strasburg is off to its best start since the 2008 season, when the Rams started the year 9-0. They face a tough test next week with three district games, beginning with a Tuesday road trip to Madison County.
"We've got to play three times, all of them in the district. Some of the teams we play are pretty solid, but that's part of it," Jeff Smoot said. "You've got to line up and play -- we'll see how good we are, if we're ready for the challenge."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com