Strasburg, Harper lead Nationals past struggling Cubs

Bryant leaves in sixth with right ankle sprain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals put a perfect finish on another rough day for the sputtering Chicago Cubs.

Strasburg struck out 13 in seven innings, Bryce Harper had two doubles and two RBIs, and the Nationals beat the Cubs 8-4 on Wednesday.

Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters hit back-to-back homers against John Lackey (5-9) during Washington’s four-run second inning. After the Cubs pulled within three at 6-3, Daniel Murphy went deep in the fifth.

The Cubs lost for the fourth time in six games to drop back to .500. Before the game, they cut veteran catcher Miguel Montero after he criticized pitcher Jake Arrieta for his role in the Nationals’ seven steals in Tuesday’s loss, and then reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant departed with a right ankle sprain.

“Things happen. You have to fix them when things happen,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You don’t cry. Of course suboptimal, no question.”

Bryant awkwardly clipped third base while catching a foul pop off the bat of Wieters in the sixth. He walked around gingerly before being helped off the field. An X-ray was negative and Bryant is expected to miss at least the next two games, according to Maddon.

“We have a game to win tomorrow,” Maddon said. “(Bryant) will not be starting, obviously, so we’ll try to figure it out in another way.”

Strasburg (9-2) allowed three runs, two earned, and four hits before leaving with back spasms. He improved to 6-1 in his last nine starts.

“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.”

Ryan Zimmerman drove in two runs for the NL East-leading Nationals, who have won two in a row over the World Series champions after dropping Monday’s series opener.

Willison Contreras and Anthony Rizzo homered for Chicago. Lackey allowed a season-high eight runs and nine hits over 5 1/3 innings.

Strasburg retired nine of his first 10 batters and struck out the side in the second and third innings.

After Contreras’s two-run homer in the fourth and a Chicago run in the fifth, Strasburg set down his final eight batters.

Strasburg initially felt his back spasm while sitting on the bench in the fourth inning.

“The first couple throws warming up going back out there, you feel it a little bit,” he said. “Just tried to mentally not let it affect me. I think it kind of helped just slow everything down a little bit, especially after a couple runs scored there in the middle innings.”