By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STRASBURG -- Slow starts have been hurting Strasburg some lately and the trend continued on Thursday night against Winchester.
The Royals took an early lead and held on for a 5-4 Valley Baseball League victory over the Express.
"Honestly, I think it's energy," Strasburg's Erik Armstrong said of the team's slow starts. "Two games ago we came out with a bunch of energy and we mashed the ball. Tonight we came out a little bit dead and then at the end we picked up the energy a little bit. It's all about energy for this team."
The Royals scored a run in the first inning on an RBI single by Jake Cintolo.
Strasburg responded in the bottom of the first. Strasburg's Jordan Tarsovich drilled the first pitch of the game by Winchester starter Tracy Lambert over the left-field fence to tie the game at 1-1.
"Most of the time I come into the box thinking first pitch of the game most pitchers are going to try to get ahead with a fastball," Tarsovich said. "So I just kind of sat on it, went with my gut, and felt it and hit it well."
The Royals (9-21) took the lead for good in the top of the second. Winchester's Jimmy Spanos hit a one-out triple off Strasburg starter Matthew Fischgrund. Nick Lacik followed with an RBI single. Cintolo had another RBI single later in the inning to give the Royals a 3-1 lead.
In the top of the third, Lambert got into even more trouble. Winchester's Dustin Woody singled with one out. Erick Quesada reached on an error and Spanos drew a walk to load the bases. Strasburg's Ben Gullo came in to relieve Lambert and gave up only an RBI groundout to Lacik to escape the inning with little damage.
An RBI double by Winchester's Jordan Peterson in the top of the sixth extended the lead to 5-1.
After giving up the home run to Tarsovich, Lambert pitched a strong game against the Express. He gave up only two hits in the first six innings, and retired 13 straight batters at one point.
"Tip my hat to [Lambert]," Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said. "We faced him earlier this year and he threw a two-hitter -- he's pretty good."
The Express (12-17) finally got to Lambert in the bottom of the seventh. Armstrong led off with a solo home run over the left-field fence to cut the lead to 5-2.
"They had been throwing me inside all day," Armstrong said. "I looked for it again, he threw me the same pitch to me again and I was ready for it. So I turned on it and hit it out."
Strasburg's Andrew Kubuski and Cameron Johnson followed with back-to-back singles. After a sac bunt by Patrick McGavin moved the runners over, a wild pitch by Lambert scored Kubuski to cut the lead to 5-3.
Strasburg added another run in the bottom of the eighth. Strasburg's D.J. Ruhlman reached on an infield single, then stole second and third. He scored on a wild pitch by Winchester reliever Willi Martin. The wild pitch got caught in the fence, and Ruhlman was awarded the extra base.
Winchester had nine hits in the game, led by two each from J.D. Long and Cintolo.
The Royals have been up and down all season, but manager Kyle Phelps said he thinks the team has its best baseball in front of it.
"I think we started today five back in the playoff spot with a lot of these teams in front of us ahead of us to play," Phelps said. "If we get this thing rolling we can make it. That's what we're trying to do. We're just trying to make it in. If we make it in, who knows what happens after that?"
The Express have also been a little up and down. Earlier this week they defeated Harrisonburg, the league's top team, and Tarsovich said the team just needs to play like that every night.
"We're at a little bump in the road right now, I think," he said. "I'd hoped that win we had over the Turks two nights ago would have been a turning point for us, and hopefully it still will, because we had a lot of momentum after that game. See if in the next couple games we can carry that through a series of wins, because we sure do need it."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org