Both pitchers got into the seventh inning putting up nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard before the Nationals finally broke through against Hamels with five runs in the seventh, turning a pitcher’s duel into a relatively comfortable 6-1 win in the rubber match of a three-game series against the Phillies at Nationals Park.
Even with as well as Hamels threw, Strasburg stood out. The Nats Opening Day starter threw eight innings for the second time in three starts, allowing just five hits and no walks while striking out nine. His bid for a first career shutout was derailed by an eighth-inning balk, allowing Ben Revere to score the Phillies’ only run. In addition, Strasburg (3-5) collected a double and a single against Hamels, who somehow fell to 1-8 on the season.
“My fastball command has gotten a little better as the season has gone on and I’ve gotten more comfortable out of the stretch,” Strasburg said to CSN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game. “It’s all about making adjustments. Sometimes you’re not gonna start the year where you want to be, but it’s all about how you end the season.”
To illustrate Strasburg’s point, in the three starts he has made since the “body language” controversy against the Cubs, he has a 1.17 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 23 innings and has worked past the seventh inning twice, a threshold he had never previously crossed.
For a while, however, on Sunday, it didn’t look as if either team was going to be able to do anything with the bats. Hamels started strong, striking out five of the first seven batters he faced, with only Bryce Harper making any noise against him. Unfortunately for the Nationals, that noise might end up costing the 20-year-old some time. With his left knee still less than 100 percent after last week’s collision with the wall in Los Angeles, Harper did himself no favors by rattling the knee twice on headfirst slides in the first inning. To make things worse, he fouled a pitch off the knee in the third inning and ultimately had to leave the game for a pinch-runner. As is the custom recently, Nationals manager Davey Johnson intimated that Harper would spend a few days resting, while Harper himself claimed to be well enough to stay in the lineup. We shall see.
Meanwhile, Strasburg was as effective as he has ever been, putting together a stretch where he retired 14 of 15 batters while picking up all nine of his strikeouts. It was a question of who would blink first, and once the bottom of the seventh rolled around, the answer was Hamels — but not without some quirk thrown in.
Ryan Zimmerman led off the inning with an infield single and Adam LaRoche followed with an outfield single. After Ian Desmond sacrificed both runners over, Hamels intentionally walked Tyler Moore to load the bases and bring up Jhonatan Solano. The backup backstop hit a slow roller to third base that Michael Young had to play perfectly to cut down Zimmerman at the plate. Instead, he spiked his throw at the feet of Phillies catcher Humberto Quintero and the ball squirted away, allowing LaRoche to come in as well.
Immediately, the Nationals began to pile on. Steve Lombardozzi capped a nice series at the plate with a two-run double to right, upping the Washington lead to 4-0, and came home himself one batter later on a double by Denard Span. An RBI single by Moore in the eighth closed the scoring.
The Nationals will now shift focus to the Beltway Series, with the Baltimore Orioles coming to town Monday for the first of a four-game, home-and-home series. Washington will have to make do without Ross Detwiler again however, who felt discomfort in his strained oblique while doing a fielding drill on Sunday and will hit the 15-day disabled list. Xavier Cedeno will come up from Syracuse to fill Detwiler’s roster spot, although the Nationals haven’t announced who will start Tuesday’s game.