Command performance: Strasburg fans 15 in win
NATIONALS 3, PADRES 0
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.
Stephen Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 Padres in seven scoreless innings, looking dominant against his hometown team.
Stephen Strasburg beats the tag of Padres catcher Austin Hedges to score on Bryce Harper’s groundball to first during the third inning.
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.