Com­mand per­for­mance: Stras­burg fans 15 in win

NA­TION­ALS 3, PADRES 0

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO

The mis­matches to start this three-game week­end se­ries were glar­ing on pa­per. Max Scherzer and Stephen Stras­burg on the mound for the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als against the San Diego Padres, a club that strug­gles to muster runs even against the most medi­ocre of pitch­ers. But base­ball has a way of tak­ing the ob­vi­ous and turn­ing it on its head.

This script played out as the uni­verse ex­pected over a 24-hour pe­riod at Na­tion­als Park. Stras­burg steam­rollered through the Padres in Satur­day’s 3-0 vic­tory, strik­ing out a ca­reer-high 15 over seven dom­i­nant in­nings to fol­low Scherzer’s 13 strike­outs over 82/3 in­nings Fri­day. Stras­burg sur­ren­dered three hits to a San Diego lineup that didn’t in­clude Wil My­ers, its big­gest threat. He walked just one. It was a ster­ling per­for­mance against his home­town team, one only lim­ited by his pitch count, which reached 108 and forced act­ing man­ager Chris Speier to lift the right-han­der with six outs to go.

Speier, fill­ing in for Dusty Baker this week­end, gave the ball to the Na­tion­als’ bullpen with a three-run cush­ion, thanks to Michael A. Tay­lor’s sec­ond two-run homer in two days in the sixth in­ning. Matt Al­bers was given the eighth in­ning and re­tired the Padres (18-33) in or­der. Koda Glover did the same in the ninth, con­fi­dently un­leash­ing his four-pitch reper­toire (rarely seen from closers) to earn his fifth save as the Na­tion­als (30-18) col­lected their first shutout and Speier im­proved to 2-0 as in­terim man­ager be­hind his pair of aces.

“Piece of cake, huh?” Speier said with a smile. “Stras­burg 15 strike­outs, ca­reer high, Michael

swing­ing the bat well, big two-run homer. I haven’t done any­thing, which is great.”

Star Wars Day be­gan with Allen Cor­doba, who had never played a game above Class A be­fore this sea­son, sin­gling to right field. Yangervis So­larte then slapped a soft chop­per to Ryan Zim­mer­man at first base. Zim­mer­man could have played it safe and set­tled for the out at first. In­stead, he charged the ball and spun around to sling it to sec­ond base. The throw went wide, Cor­doba was safe, and Zim­mer­man was charged with his sixth er­ror.

Stras­burg re­tired the next two bat­ters but walked Cory Span­gen­berg on four pitches to load the bases as rain­fall in­ten­si­fied. He then re­cov­ered just as quickly, strik­ing out Austin Hedges on three pitches to es­cape a 27-pitch in­ning with­out yield­ing a run.

“Ob­vi­ously if an­other in­ning or two hap­pened like that again, you wouldn’t go as deep,” Stras­burg said. “But you can only go one pitch at a time, can’t go out there and say I have to keep my pitch count down be­cause of that in­ning. Just have to keep grind­ing and mak­ing pitches.”

More sloppy de­fense in the sec­ond in­ning fur­ther com­pli­cated mat­ters for Stras­burg. First, Erick Ay­bar hit a rou­tine ground­ball to short­stop Trea Turner, who gath­ered it but dropped the ball on the trans­fer for his third er­ror. Then, af­ter the next two Padres struck out, Ay­bar bolted for sec­ond base. Matt Wi­eters’s throw from be­hind the plate ap­peared to have beat Ay­bar, but Wilmer Difo mis­han­dled it and Ay­bar slid in safely. Cor­doba, how­ever, grounded out to strand Ay­bar. The Padres didn’t have an­other run­ner on sec­ond base un­til the sixth in­ning.

Stras­burg light­ened the load on his de­fense over the next three in­nings by strik­ing out seven of the nine bat­ters he faced. He mixed his four pitches with master­ful com­mand and re­tired 12 straight from the sec­ond through the fifth. He didn’t yield an­other hit un­til the sixth, when So­larte and Hunter Ren­froe de­liv­ered sin­gles to put Stras­burg in a jam. Stras­burg wig­gled out of the preTay­lor dica­ment with, pre­dictably, a pair of strike­outs to pre­serve the Na­tion­als’ one-run lead.

Mean­while, Stras­burg also dis­played his tal­ents in the bat­ter’s box and on the base paths. First, he smacked a sin­gle up the mid­dle for his third hit of the sea­son to lead off the third in­ning. He then dashed from first to third on Jayson Werth’s en­su­ing 112-mph laser off the wall in left field. A cou­ple min­utes later, Stras­burg showed off the wheels one more time, scam­per­ing home on Bryce Harper’s one-hop­per to first base­man So­larte. Stras­burg just beat the throw home from So­larte, who de­liv­ered it from the seat of his pants, with a nifty feet-first slide to give the Na­tion­als a 1-0 edge.

Stras­burg was fi­nally pro­vided a cou­ple of in­surance runs in the sixth in­ning, when Tay­lor launched a home run to al­most the ex­act spot he did Fri­day, be­yond the wall in left-cen­ter field. Stras­burg then took the mound for the fi­nal time and com­pleted his day with a per­fect frame, capped off by his 15th strike­out, which tied for the fourth-most in Na­tion­als his­tory and gave him 26 strike­outs over his past two starts.

“The last two out­ings he’s had his curve­ball work­ing re­ally, re­ally well,” Speier said. “Good luck as a hit­ter. That’s not easy.”

Stras­burg and Scherzer be­came the first pair of team­mates with at least 13 strike­outs on con­sec­u­tive days since the Cleve­land In­di­ans’ Corey Klu­ber (14 strike­outs) and Car­los Car­rasco (13) com­bined for 27 pun­chouts against the Tampa Bay Rays in July 2015.

The per­for­mances served as a dis­play of the riches atop Wash­ing­ton’s start­ing ro­ta­tion. While most are search­ing for one ace, the Na­tion­als have two and they were, as ex­pected, ut­terly dom­i­nant Fri­day and Satur­day.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Stephen Stras­burg struck out a ca­reer-high 15 Padres in seven score­less in­nings, look­ing dom­i­nant against his home­town team.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Stephen Stras­burg beats the tag of Padres catcher Austin Hedges to score on Bryce Harper’s ground­ball to first dur­ing the third in­ning.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Michael A. Tay­lor con­nected on a two-run home run for the sec­ond straight day to give the Na­tion­als a three-run lead in the sixth.

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