Stephen Strasburg had been struggling somewhat early this season, entering today’s game with an 0-1 record and a 6.10 ERA after two lackluster starts. Ian Desmond was dealing with a slow start too, hitting .226/.242/.452 nine games into the season. But it turns out that the Miami Marlins’ (5-5) offense and bullpen, respectively, were all they needed to get back on track. Strasburg gave up just one run and struck out twelve, while Desmond hit a grand slam in the eighth inning as the Washington Nationals (7-2) beat the Marlins, 7-1.
Strasburg’s (W, 1-1) brilliant showing today should assuage the concerns of anyone who was worried about the ace after getting tagged for four runs by the Mets and going just 4.1 innings against Atlanta. He gave up a single to Christian Yelich to lead the game off, but retired the next 14 Marlins, a streak broken after Adeiny Hechavarria reached on a Desmond error, and did not allow another hit until Tom Koehler reached on an infield single to open the sixth.
His mortality showed in the sixth and seventh, as he hit a batter, walked another, and gave up a solo homer to Marcell Ozuna for what would be Miami’s only run of the game. But his final line was extremely impressive: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K.
Strasburg was not the only impressive pitcher for the Nats today. Jerry Blevins retired three straight Marlins in relief of Strasburg, and Aaron Barrett continued to dominate by striking out Giancarlo Stanton to end the seventh, a massive out given that the Nats led by just one at the time. Barrett has now made five MLB appearances and has yet to allow a hit.
On the offensive side of things, a few Nats made big contributions. The Nats led just 2-1 entering the eighth before Desmond cracked it open, but those two runs came from a Jayson Werth two-run homer that drove in Anthony Rendon. Those two have unquestionably been the hottest-hitting Nats this season, with OPSs of 1.112 and 1.120 respectively. Werth was 2-for-3 with a walk today, driving in two runs and scoring two, while Rendon was 1-for-3 with a walk, extending his season-opening hitting streak to a team-record nine games.
In the eighth, Rendon and Werth started the rally, as a double and a single put two runners in scoring position with no outs. After Adam LaRoche grounded out, Marlins pitcher Arquimedes Caminero seemed to lose his control, walking Kevin Frandsen on four straight pitches to load the bases and then walking Bryce Harper on four more to drive in a run. Harper was 1-for-3 on the day. After he took his free pass, Desmond came to the plate and mashed a pitch to left center to put the game beyond doubt.
Rafael “Hashtag Believe In” Soriano flew in the face of the naysayers with his outing today. The Nats’ bullpen was taxed after Jordan Zimmermann’s 1.2 IP outing, to the point that manager Matt Williams was prepared to use tomorrow’s starter Tanner Roark in relief, so Soriano pitched in a non-save situation in the ninth. Cynics would have you believe that he might be apathetic there, but he looked strong in throwing a perfect inning. He might not be cooked yet.
For the second time this season, Ryan Zimmerman was removed from the game late and replaced by Anthony Rendon at third, while Danny Espinosa manned second. It’s clear that Williams has faith in Zimmerman as the team’s third baseman based on his public comments, but he has at least acknowledged that Zimmerman has a problem that won’t be improving any time soon.
For the third straight season, the Nationals are 7-2 after their first nine games. In 2012, they lost to the Reds in Game 10 but beat the Astros in their next two, finishing the season with 98 wins and the NL East crown. In 2013, they went to Atlanta and were swept, entering a downward spiral that ended with 86 wins and nothing to show for it. The Nats’ next series is a three-game set in Atlanta, and while its importance should not be overstated, a win or two would be big for the Nats’ confidence. But a note on this note: the 2013 Nats had a run differential of zero after nine games, while these Nats are +22.