If today portends anything about this season in DC, it’s about to be a great year.
Before the game, the Nationals were presented their awards from last season: a Gold Glove for Adam LaRoche; Silver Sluggers for Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg, and LaRoche; NL Manager of the Year for Davey Johnson; Executive of The Year for GM Mike Rizzo; and NL Rookie of The Year for Harper. It was a nice reminder of 2012’s success, but judging by the crowd, Nats fans are excited to move on to the more promising 2013.
It became obvious pretty quickly that Strasburg (W, 1-0) would cruise through the depleted Miami lineup. In fact, everything became obvious pretty quickly: thanks to the lack of offense, the game lasted only two hours and ten minutes. Strasburg allowed a single to the first batter he faced, Marlins LF Juan Pierre, before retiring the next 19. Then, in the seventh, he allowed a Giancarlo Stanton double and a Placido Polanco single before a peculiar play got him out of trouble. Rob Brantly lined out to left, and Harper’s incredible arm on the return throw prevented Stanton from scoring from third. However, Polanco was caught off first, so Wilson Ramos threw to LaRoche, who threw to Danny Espinosa in an attempt to tag out Polanco. While Polanco was avoiding infielders, Stanton took off for home, but was nabbed by a quick throw from Espinosa and tag from Ramos. In shorthand, it was a 7-2-3-4-2 double play. That would be the last play of Strasburg’s outing, despite the fact that he had thrown only 80 pitches. He threw seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits but only striking out three. Davey Johnson’s decision to end Strasburg’s day prematurely demonstrates that, while the innings limit may be off, the leash is still on.
Not to be outdone, Harper responded with an early message of his own. With two outs in the top of the first, Harper took a Ricky Nolasco curveball for a ride to right field, giving the Nats a 1-0 lead. After Nolasco cut through the rest of the Nats lineup, retiring them all with the exception of a Wilson Ramos walk, Harper did the exact same thing in the fourth. His second shot, off a full-count slider, landed only about 20 feet from the first and earned him the rare Opening Day curtain call. Apart from facing Harper, Nolasco pitched well, allowing three total hits in six innings while striking out five, but he took the loss thanks to Strasburg’s efforts. Harper would not reach base in his next two at-bats, but, as indicated by the “M-V-P” chants he drew, the message was sent.
Tyler Clippard shut down the eighth despite walking the first batter he faced and Rafael Soriano made a positive impression with pinpoint control during his 1-2-3 ninth, earning his first save as a Nat by striking out Stanton. Fellow newcomer Denard Span recorded his first hit as a Nat in the eighth inning, and Wilson Ramos was 1-2 with a walk in his first game back after tearing his ACL last May. It was not as successful a day for some veterans, as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and LaRoche combined to go 0-10, but every day’s a good day when you win. It looks like it’s about to be a great season for the Nationals.
Next Game: Wednesday against Miami at Nationals Park. Gonzalez (0-0, 0.00) v. Slowey (0-0, 0.00)