In San Diego, one
anchorman pitcher was more man than the rest, and his name was Stephen Strasburg.
He was like a god walking amongst mere mortals. He had a change-up that could make any batter whiff, and fastballs so fast they made Verlander look like a hobo.
In other words, Stephen Strasburg was the man.
The offense knocked in six runs, including two homers, and Stephen Strasburg looked brilliant going into the eighth inning for the first time in his career as the Nationals (22-19) beat the Padres, 6-2, to move within half a game of Atlanta for the NL East lead.
Strasburg (W, 2-5) was lights out in his return to his hometown of San Diego. On a season-high 117 pitches, he pitched a career-high eight innings. He allowed only three hits, three walks, two runs (one earned), but only struck out four. He had never before pitched in the eighth inning in his career, and Davey Johnson surprised a few people by sending him out for the eight at 107 pitches, but Strasburg delivered on his faith, delivering an efficient ten-pitch frame despite a walk.
By far the most notable frame for him was the fifth, in which he overcame adversity just like he failed to do in his last start. If you’ll recall, he fell apart after a Ryan Zimmermanerror against the Cubs, allowing four unearned runs and raising some concerns about his maturity and ability to deal with hardship. Davey criticized him after the game, and it appears that he has worked to improve his attitude.
In the fifth, Strasburg allowed a double and a walk to put runners on first and second with one out. Pinch hitter Kyle Blanks sent a grounder to Zimmerman, whose throw to second was high. Zimmerman’s error made it bases loaded, one out as opposed to runners on the corners and two outs. Instead of deflating like he did last time, Strasburg picked the team up like Davey expected. A weak Everth Cabrera grounder scored a run, but Strasburg struck out Will Venable to limit the damage, and high fived Zimmerman on their way back to the dugout. While a change of mindset was certainly significant for Strasburg, he likely felt much less pressure with a five-run lead.
The offense, dormant for the last two games in L.A., picked it back up tonight. They drew three walks in the first two innings but failed to score, drawing groans from the Twitter crowd that this was the same old offense striking out three straight times with a runner on second. Despite the walks, the team did not manage a hit until the fourth inning, but it was quite a hit.
After Zimmerman’s second walk of the game, Adam LaRoche took Edinson Volquez deep to center to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead. This was LaRoche’s second straight game with a home run and his thirteenth straight with a hit, a career high. However, the next inning would be where the offense really announced itself. Four singles, interspersed with two outs, would score three runs off Volquez, capped off by a two-run single by Zimmerman. That onslaught would knock out Volquez, who had a peculiar line: 5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 7 K. His season ERA is now 5.55. No Nats had multiple hits, but each of the first five batters in the lineup had a hit and scored a run, and hitters 2-5 each had at least one RBI.
Volquez’s replacement, Tyson Ross, pitched two innings and allowed just one run, but what a run it was. Bryce Harper announced his return from his injury with a mammoth home run to dead center, measured at 431 feet. It was his eleventh of the year, and extended the Nats’ lead to 6-2. Entering in the eighth, Brad Brach threw two scoreless innings for the Padres, and Rafael Soriano locked down the ninth to secure the Nats’ 22nd win of the year.
Next Game: Friday at San Diego, 10:10 PM. Gonzalez (3-2, 4.20) v. Smith (0-0, 54.00)