Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats try to avoid a disheartening sweep against the Orioles this afternoon.
If they are to reverse that trend today (and salvage one game from this Battle of the Beltways series) they'll both need Stephen Strasburg to bounce back from his shaky start against the Padres -- here's guessing he avoids all ointments, creams and other topical medications this morning -- and their lineup to produce early against Orioles left-hander Wie-Yin Chen.
Not wanting to tinker too much with the reconfigured lineup he used last night, Davey Johnson is sticking with his second baseman as his leadoff man. That man, however, is not Steve Lombardozzi as it was last night but Danny Espinosa, who returns after getting one night off. Though he hasn't done it yet this year, Espinosa has led off 38 times in his career ... producing a .162 average and .235 on-base percentage.
Plenty of updates to come, so please check back...
BALTIMORE ORIOLES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MASN2, Ch. 50, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 184
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, Wind 14 mph in from CF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
RF Xavier Nady
LF Tyler Moore
C Jesus Flores
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LF Xavier Avery
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
3B Wilson Betemit
1B Chris Davis
2B Robert Andino
C Luis Exposito
LHP Wie-Yin Chen
HP Rob Drake, 1B Joe West (cc), 2B Sam Holbrook, 3B Andy Fletcher
1:37 p.m. -- We are underway as Stephen Strasburg's frst pitch (a 96 mph fastball) gets a piece of plate ump Rob Drake. Kind of an odd way to start things. Looks like it'll be another overflow crowd here today. They're again selling standing room only tickets.
1:45 p.m. -- Another rough top of the first for Strasburg. The Orioles' first three batters all hit the ball hard. Avery singled to left, then took second on J.J. Hardy's flyout to deep center field, then scored on Nick Markakis' solid single to right. Strasburg did prevent any more damage by breaking Adam Jones' bat on a 5-4-3 double play, but otherwise looked quite shaky out there as the Orioles take an early 1-0 lead.
1:58 p.m. -- Well, this may not come as a surprise to some of you, but Danny Espinosa struck out to open the bottom of the first. On three pitches. Swinging at the last two. Not good. On a more positive note, Ryan Zimmerman beat out a chopper off the mound that went toward third base for an infield single. And Adam LaRoche drew a walk. That set the stage for Ian Desmond, who gave a Chen pitch a ride to deep left-center, only to watch as Avery caught it at the warning track. Gonna be tough to hit one out today with a pretty strong wind blowing straight in. After one, the Nats are trailing 1-0.
2:14 p.m. -- Did the Nationals show up to play today? It certainly doesn't look like it in the very early going. They already trail 3-0 thanks to a pair of unearned runs in the top of the second. It began with Bryce Harper racing way over to left field to call off Tyler Moore on a routine fly ball ... and then dropping it. No reason for Harper to go all the way over there and call off his teammate. Adam LaRoche then was slow to field a roller to him (with his underhand feed to Strasburg a tad late). After walking the No. 8 hitter, Strasburg then threw a fastball that went right off Jesus Flores' glove for a passed ball. That put Chris Davis in position to score on Avery's base hit to left. Quite a fiasco here so far, with Strasburg having already thrown 51 pitches through two laborious innings.
2:45 p.m. -- That's a little more like it, huh? Strasburg finally decided to take matters into his own hands. He retired the side in the top of the third, striking out Jones and Betemit, then led off the bottom of the inning with a single to right. Espinosa (who tried to bunt on the first pitch he saw, then again fell behind 0-2) bounced back and roped a double down the third-base line. That set the stage for Harper, who atoned for his earlier error by drilling a 3-2 curveball to right, just out of the reach of a diving Markakis. The most impressive thing about that hit: Harper managed to make a mid-swing adjustment once he realized Chen's pitch was a 69 mph curveball, staying back enough to make solid contact. So that scored two runs. And then Desmond showed some nice hustle to avoid an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play and instead allow another run to score on the fielder's choice. So just like that, it's now a 3-3 game after three.
2:55 p.m. -- Strasburg is taking back control of this game. He's now retired seven straight, five via strikeout. He's got six total strikeouts through four innings. Still 3-3 as Xavier Nady leads off the bottom of the fourth.
3:05 p.m. -- Talk about taking back control of the game! Stephen Strasburg just homered. Yes, homered. Seconds after Jesus Flores did the same thing. Strasburg belted a curveball from Chen into the left-field bullpen, then took about three minutes to round the bases as the crowd roared. Those fans wouldn't stop roaring until he came back up the dugout steps and took a curtain call. Just an electric moment here, not the least of which because it put the Nats up 5-3 in the fourth.
3:10 p.m. -- Meanwhile, back on the mound, Strasburg has retired 10 in a row, seven on strikeouts. You don't want to get this guy angry.
3:27 p.m. -- Ian Desmond delivers again after Adam LaRoche was walked again (third time today). That makes it 6-3 after five, and Davey decides not to take any chances and pulls Strasburg. His final line: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 HR (that he hit, not allowed). He threw 90 pitches. Could he have come back out for the sixth? Sure. But considering Davey isn't letting him go much past the 100-pitch mark, he probably would've been pulled if he put one man on base. So instead Tom Gorzelanny will start the sixth inning with a clean slate.
3:42 p.m. -- Pretty quick sixth inning as both Gorzelanny and Darren O'Day cruise. Gorzelanny's back out for the seventh, the Nats still leading 6-3.
3:51 p.m. -- Strasburg and Gorzelanny had combined to retire 15 in a row until Exposito walked in the seventh. Still, nice job shutting down the Orioles lineup after that fast start. We've reached the seventh-inning stretch.
4:10 p.m. -- Tyler Clippard picks up right where Gorzelanny left off, retiring the side in the eighth. The Orioles don't have a hit since Avery's RBI single in the second. Straburg, Gorzelanny and Clippard have combined to retire 19 of the last 20. Still 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth as Henry Rodriguez warms in the pen.
4:15 p.m. -- Espinosa puts the cherry on top of today's sundae. A two-run homer into the Red Porch puts the Nats up 8-3 in the bottom of the eighth. Ryan Mattheus now warming for the non-save situation.
4:35 p.m. -- It's over. The Nats get a much-needed, 9-3 victory over the Orioles to avoid the series sweep. Strasburg improves to 4-1, but who cares about his pitching performance? How 'bout that homer!