The Nationals had to play the Marlins on Sunday afternoon without the services of Ian Desmond, who was out of the lineup for the first time since April 19th. Desmond’s oblique problem has finally gotten bad enough that he needed to sit out a game. It is anticipated that he will be out for at least several more games, therefore Danny Espinosa is playing shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi is in at second base for the forseeable future. The question was–how would the Nats respond to losing their infield captain and most reliable clutch hitter?
The Nationals responded by beating the Marlins 4-0 behind a gritty outing by Stephen Strasburg, spectacular outfield defense and timely hitting.
Stephen Strasburg took the mound having lost his last three starts. He ground out a win this time, getting himself into jams and getting out of them all day without allowing a run. Strasburg’s performance was not one of his spectacular, strikeout laden gems. It was a more determined, more mature presence on the mound that got the job done. Strasburg went six innings and only faced the minimum batters in the first and sixth innings. In every other inning, Strasburg had base runners on, and in the bottom of the third had a bases loaded, one out jam to wiggle out of. When he needed to, he made the perfect pitch to get the strike out or the out to end the threat. The Marlins stranded eight base runners, and went 1-10 with runners in scoring position.
Ricky Nolasco baffled the Nats hitters for four innings, carrying a no hitter into the fifth. Michael Morse started off the top of the fifth for the Nationals with a single. Espinosa reached on a fielder’s choice, erasing Morse and leaving Danny on first. Roger Bernadina, getting his first start in center field since, then hit a groundball that he beat out at first … except the umpire called him out. That put Espinosa on second with two outs. Ozzie Guillen decided to walk Jhonatan Solano to get to Strasburg. Stras responded by hitting an RBI single which scored Espinosa and moved Solano to third. Lombardozzi followed with another single, plating Solano. Harper flied out to end the inning, but the Nats had scored the first two runs of the game.
The Nationals struck again in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman lead off the sixth inning with a single. LaRoche followed with a single. Morse also singled, scoring Zimmerman. On a passed ball, the runners moved up. Danny Espinosa then had a great at bat against Nolasco, running the count full and then fouling off several pitches before hitting a sacrifice fly which scored LaRoche and moved Morse to third. The Marlins then changed pitchers, bringing in reliever Wade LeBlanc to pitch to Bernadina. LeBlanc was having trouble finding the plate, and with the count at 2-0 Davey Johnson put on the sign for a suicide squeeze. Problem was, Bernadina missed the sign. Morse came running down the line and Bernadina tried to foul off a pitch that was low and way outside, but couldn’t make contact. Morse was tagged out. Bernadina then lifted a deep fly ball for the third out.
Ryan Mattheus pitched the seventh and threw to one batter in the eighth, making way for Sean Burnett who pitched the rest of the inning. Clippard came on for the ninth in a non-save situation and promptly proved that he has now converted himself to a closer. Clippard did not get serious about getting outs until he loaded the bases giving up a single and two walks. Strasburg left the dugout and walked down the tunnel, unable to watch the outcome. Once the inning turned into a high stress situation, he settled down and got a strikeout and a pop up out, and at that point Strasburg came back to the dugout to. Clippard got Omar Infante to hit a fly ball to right that had Lombardozzi and Harper colliding with each other in an attempt to make the catch. Harper made the catch and held onto the ball to end the game.
The catch by Harper was not the only spectacular outfield catch he made in the game. In the second inning Harper, playing right field, made an unbelievable snare of a fly ball hit by Hanley Ramirez. Roger Bernadina saved a run in the bottom of the fourth after Emilio Bonifacio had just doubled by making a diving catch on a fly ball to center field hit by John Buck. Bernadina made another great catch in the fifth inning when the Marlins had runners at first and second for the second out, which again kept the Marlins from taking advantage of baserunners.
As if the tightrope pitching by Strasburg, the nail biter ninth by Clippard, and the fabulous run saving outfield plays didn’t create enough drama, Ozzie Guillen added some more by his antics. After Harper batted in the first inning, Guillen was of the opinion that the pine tar on Harper’s bat came up too far and mentioned it to the home plate umpire. Harper changed lumber for his at bat in the fourth inning and when coming up to the plate stuck the bat out and knocked the dirt out of his cleats. Guillen claimed that Harper was pointing the bat at him and had a temper tantrum in his dugout, complete with choice swear words for those lipreaders watching the game at home. Guillen continued to complain and yell from the dugout until warned by the home plate umpire to knock it off.
The Nationals scored all of their runs by hitting singles. This is the first game of this season where the Nats failed to get an extra-base hit. The Nationals until today were the only team in the majors which had at least one extra-base hit in every game.
Champ of the Game: Stephen Strasburg did it all today. He turned in a shutout pitching performance which was by no means easy. He went 1-1 at the plate, driving in the Nats first run of the day, and drew a walk in his other plate appearance.
Chump of the Game: The Nationals didn’t have one. None of the Marlins players deserve that award either. The award goes to Ozzie Guillen for acting like a three year old. If you are on a long car ride with Guillen, don’t look out of his window or he will complain to mom.