September 18, 2018

Washington Nationals Game 51 Review: Strasburg dominates Braves in 2-0 win

Stephen Strasburg’s last four starts were disappointing in the sense that he didn’t have his normal pinpoint command and he gave up a few earned runs. You know, not perfect. In fact, alarmists looked at the four earned runs he gave up in two of the last three starts and wondered aloud if something was wrong with the still just 23-year old hurler. Even his manager mentioned that Strasburg had become a little difficult to live with since he’s so demanding of himself.

Well, Saturday afternoon’s start should put that talk to rest.

Strasburg struck out the side in the first inning and never looked back, throwing seven shutout innings en route to a Washington Nationals 2-0 win over the Atlanta Braves, the fourth straight win for the Nats over their division rival.

Strasburg had everything working on a beautiful, sunny, temperate afternoon in front of a capacity crowd of over 41,000, many of whom stayed for the free post-game concert by country-rock act Big and Rich. Strasburg needed just 90 pitches to complete seven innings, striking out nine against four hits. He did not walk a batter.

In fact, the Braves only had one inning when they had two runners reach base at the same time.

“He was using all his pitches, had great command,” manager Davey Johnson said. “When he finished off — blew the guy away — I said ‘Man, he’s back’, but I don’t think he ever left. In his mind, he left.”

With two on and one out in the bottom of the seventh, with the Nats up just 1-0 (on a Jesus Flores solo shot — his second of the season), Johnson decided to pinch-hit for Strasburg, first with Roger Bernadina, then Xavier Nady when the Braves countered with lefty Jonny Venters. Nady doubled to the right field corner off Venters to plate the insurance run.

“I know [Strasburg] was still strong, he had another inning or two,” Johnson said of the decision. “But after three rough outings I figured not to push it. I had my bullpen set up perfect and with the job he did, it was unbelievably fun watching him.”

After Strasburg departed, Sean Burnett pitched a scoreless eighth and Tyler Clippard a scoreless ninth for his fourth save, striking out the final two batters for emphasis.

While this win was good for the Nats, breaking a three-game losing streak and maintaining a one-game lead over Miami and New York for first place in the division, it was that much better for Strasburg. He’s ridiculously demanding of himself, and his frustration the last few starts was noticable in his body language on the mound. As much as anyone, he needed to have a good outing. And he did.

THE GOOD: Strasburg, obviously. He had plenty enough in the tank to go all the way today, but Davey opted for the pinch-hitter. He also joked about how he’s been “stealing” innings from Strasburg all season since he’s on an innings limit.

THE BAD: Everyone  had kind of a rough day against Brandon Beachy (6.1, 2 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 6K), but Steve Lombardozzi went 0-for-4 and failed to execute on consecutive attempts at a safety squeeze, fouling his bunt attempts back.  He then whiffed badly on an off-speed pitch.

THE UGLY: Ryan Zimmerman. 0-for-4, and is now hitting .240/.321/.342 this season in 165 plate appearances. He’s hit .189 (7-for-37) in his last nine games with just one walk and three extra-base hits, all doubles.

THE STATS: 4 hits, 5 BBs, 7 Ks. 1-for-4 with RISP, 6 LOB, no GIDP. No errors, 2 DPs.

NEXT GAME: Sunday at 1:35 pm against the Braves. Gio Gonzalez (7-1, 2.04) hosts Tommy Hanson (5-4, 3.84).

NATS NOTES: Michael Morse made his 2012 debut, going 0-for-4 with four straight groundouts to short. He made one catch in right field. Fans gave him a standing ovation in his first plate appearance.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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