At long last, Strasburg, Nationals deliver

At long last, Strasburg, Nationals deliver
May 7, 2014, 5:45 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After waiting out a 1-hour, 40-minute rain delay — what else is new? — Stephen Strasburg took the mound trying to pitch the Nationals to a series victory over a tough opponent, something they hadn't yet done this season. The right-hander delivered, though only after another shaky first inning.

Strasburg gave up two quick runs, continuing a disturbing trend, but his teammates immediately picked him up. Adam LaRoche delivered a two-run single off the right-field wall in the bottom of the first to tie the game, and Wilson Ramos (fresh off the DL) roped a double off the wall in left-center. The Nationals squandered an opportunity to take down old pal Dan Haren in that first frame, but they battled and scratched out the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth on Ramos' sac fly.

[MORE: Ramos comes back ahead of schedule]

Strasburg took over from there. He tossed six straight zeroes after the first inning and even got a chance to take the mound for the eighth with his pitch count at 106 and his team clinging to a 1-run lead. Jerry Blevins and Tyler Clippard wound up entering from the bullpen to finish the inning, then handed it over to Rafael Soriano to close out the game and extend his scoreless-innings streak to 25.

With the win, the Nationals took 2 of 3 from the star-studded Dodgers and headed west for a road trip to Oakland and Arizona with a 19-15 record.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Ramos has shown a flair for the dramatic when returning from the DL before. In his first game back from a hamstring strain last July 4, he clubbed a 3-run homer against the Brewers. He didn't quite pull that off today, though he only missed by a few feet. On the very first pitch he saw since Opening Day, Ramos crushed a drive off the wall in left-center, a double that normally would have driven home a run except for the fact LaRoche (who was on first base at the time) has a strained quad muscle and couldn't advance beyond third. Ramos didn't produce another hit after that, but that didn't mean he was unproductive at the plate. His line-drive sac fly to right in the bottom of the fifth gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead and solidified a strong return for The Buffalo after five weeks on the DL.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It's no longer a surprise when Strasburg (or any member of the Nationals' rotation) struggles in the first inning. He served up four straight singles in his first frame, letting two runs score. That raised Strasburg's first-inning ERA this season to an even 9.00. But it's also not a surprise when he rebounds from a rough first inning to dominate the rest of the way. Strasburg simply went to work and retired 19-of-22 batters he faced through the seventh. In doing so, he lowered his ERA after the first inning this season to 2.29. And in a bit of a surprise, Matt Williams let his young ace re-take the mound for the eighth at 106 pitches. Strasburg wound up putting two men on with one out before departing, but this was perhaps evidence that Williams plans to push the right-hander more than anyone has to date in the big leagues.

KEY STAT: Danny Espinosa is now 6 for his last 38 with 17 strikeouts.

UP NEXT: The Nationals head west tonight, then get to spend a day off in Northern California before opening a weekend series in Oakland, the club's first-ever appearance at O.co Coliseum. Doug Fister makes his much-anticipated Nats debut Friday night at 10:05 p.m. EDT against left-hander Tommy Milone, one of the pitchers who was sent to the A's in the Gio Gonzalez trade.