Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg starts today's series finale at Citi Field.
Today, they have the opportunity to get back to that high-water mark as they seek a sweep of the same Mets, this time at Citi Field. And who better to send to the mound for such a game than Stephen Strasburg, who undoubtedly is motivated to rebound from his last start in which he helped instigate that blown 9-0 lead against the Braves. There may be no pitcher in baseball teams would rather not have to face than Strasburg coming off a shaky outing. He's given up four or more earned runs only four times in his career; his ERA the start after he gave up those runs: 1.06.
Only one change to Davey Johnson's lineup from last night: Sandy Leon will be behind the plate. Jesus Flores (who has been dealing with a stiff back) came out of last night's game fine, and he made a couple of nice plays in the process, but Johnson didn't want to take his chances throwing Flores back out there after a short turnaround.
We've got a really early, 12:10 p.m. start today. If you're stuck in the office and can't watch, you're in luck -- plenty of updates and analysis to come right here...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at NEW YORK METS
Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 1:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 184
Weather: Sunny, 80 degrees, Wind 9 mph LF to RF
2B Steve Lombardozzi
RF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse
SS Danny Espinosa
CF Roger Bernadina
C Sandy Leon
RHP Stephen Strasburg
SS Ruben Tejada
LF Jordany Valdespin
3B David Wright
1B Ike Davis
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
C Josh Thole
CF Andres Torres
RHP Jeremy Hefner
HP Jim Wolf
1B Derryl Cousins (cc)
2B Alan Porter
3B David Rackley
12:11 p.m. -- And we are underway on a gorgeous, 80-degree afternoon. Jeremy Hefner starts off Steve Lombardozzi with a fastball for strike one.
12:17 p.m. -- Bryce Harper hasn't been hitting as consistently in recent weeks as he was earlier in the season, but when he does get a hit, he's killing the ball. Think about his triple last week, his homer and go-ahead single Monday night, and now add his opposite-field double off Hefner in the top of the first today. Just destroyed that slider. Unfortunately, Harper was stranded at second base because Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche each struck out swinging at fastballs in the 90-91 mph range.
12:24 p.m. -- Let's see ... Stephen Strasburg threw nine pitches, eight of them strikes, struck out both Ruben Tejada and David Wright and got Jordany Valdespin to ground out during a 1-2-3 first inning. Yeah, he's not bad.
12:35 p.m. -- Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa, ladies and gentlemen. Back-to-back jacks to open the second inning. Morse sliced his down the right-field line, his latest opposite-field shot. (Of his seven homers this season, five have been hit to the right of straightaway center.) Espinosa, meanwhile, launched a pitch from Hefner well into the second deck down the right-field line. It's remarkable how locked in Danny is all of a sudden from the left side of the plate. 2-0 Nats as Strasburg take the mound for the bottom of the second.
12:42 p.m. -- Man, is the ball flying out to right field today, or what? Ike Davis takes Strasburg's first-pitch fastball down the line to lead off the bottom of the second with a solo homer. Daniel Murphy then roped a single to right as Strasburg showed his first signs of trouble today. No worries, he got Kirk Nieuwenhuis to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and Josh Thole to tap a weak grounder to third. Two innings in the books, Strasburg has thrown 14 of 19 pitches for strikes and the Nats hold a 2-1 lead.
12:55 p.m. -- Another chance for the Nats in the top of the third after Daniel Murphy booted Harper's potential double-play grounder. But Lombardozzi was thrown out trying to steal third (actually, he beat the throw but over-slid the base). That killed any momentum for a rally, so we head to the bottom of the third in what is still a 2-1 game.
1:02 p.m. -- Who says you can't pitch efficiently and still strike out batters? Through three innings, Strasburg has five K's and only 35 pitches. Impressive job by the right-hander going right after hitters today with his fastball. That's something Steve McCatty has been trying to pound into his head for a while now.
1:09 p.m. -- Everything's coming up Espinosa! Danny reaches on a bloop double down the left-field line in the top of the fourth, then later scores when Josh Thole can't hold onto Ike Davis' throw to the plate. Make it 3-1 Nats as we head to the bottom of the fourth.
1:16 p.m. -- Strasburg's really finding his groove now. He struck out five in a row at one point before the streak ended when Davis popped up to end the fourth. So he's got seven strikeouts overall despite a pitch count of only 47. He's just dialed in right now.
1:23 p.m. -- OK, here's the key Espinosa stat: His numbers vs. right-handers in July: .433 (23-53), six doubles, a triple, three homers, 10 RBI and a 1.221 OPS. That's a stunning turnaround from the left side of the plate for Danny. Still 3-1 Nats as we go to the bottom of the fifth.
1:32 p.m. -- The Mets picked up a hit in the bottom of the fifth, with Thole sending a double to deep left field. Morse, though, didn't exactly track that thing down with a lot of confidence. Not a routine play by any means, but he could've looked better trying to make it. Strasburg, of course, doesn't care because he's just mowing down everyone else. He struck out Kirk Nieuwenhuis on a 97 mph fastball, then got Andres Torres to fly out to right to end the fifth on 69 pitches (49 strikes). Nats still lead 3-1.
1:45 p.m. -- The Mets were really playing with fire in the top of the sixth. I mean, walking Bernadina AND Leon to bring up Strasburg with two outs? Unfortunately, the Nats' most potent hitter couldn't deliver this time. He struck out, proving his humanity in the process. We go to the bottom of the sixth.
2:07 p.m. -- Adam LaRoche said he'd be going back to his own bat today after using Roger Bernadina's lighter model last night against R.A. Dickey. Well, after striking out his first three times up today, I don't know if he switched back to Roger's bat. But whatever he used in the top of the seventh against lefty Tim Byrdak sure worked. LaRoche destroyed a 2-2 pitch, sending it past the second deck in right-center for a two-run blast. LaRoche now takes over the team lead with his 18th homer, and the Nats take a 5-1 lead as Strasburg takes the mound for the bottom of the seventh with 10 strikeouts on 84 pitches.
2:18 p.m. -- Stephen Strasburg, ladies and gentlemen: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 11 K, 94 pitches. Remember what I said at the top of this post about how he responds to bad starts? He did it again. Meanwhile, the Nats rotation over the last five games: 1.32 ERA, with four guys going seven innings and only Jordan Zimmermann being held to six. And it all started with ... John Lannan's gem against the Braves. Who'd have thunk it?
2:24 p.m. -- Henry Rodriguez in to pitch the eighth in relief of Strasburg, with the Nats up 5-1. Hold onto your hats, folks.
2:33 p.m. -- Well, nobody could have seen that coming. Henry walks the first batter he faces on four pitches. Steve McCatty comes out for a chat. Henry then walks the next batter. Davey Johnson comes out with the hook. Craig Stammen on for what is now a save situation.
2:49 p.m. -- Everybody out there still breathing? Good. Davey wound up using four relievers to get through the eighth inning, going from Rodriguez to Stammen to Sean Burnett to Drew Storen, who came through big-time to get David Wright to ground out with two runners in scoring position. Storen is starting to look more and more comfortable. If he's back for real, he's going to be a big weapon down the stretch. 5-2 now as we go to the ninth.
2:54 p.m. -- OK, here comes Tyler Clippard for the bottom of the ninth, the Nats still up 5-2.
3:04 p.m. -- Ballgame. Nats win 5-2. They sweep the series and move to 19 games over .500, matching the high-water mark in club history.