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Nationals 4-1 over Phillies: Stephen Strasburg back to dominating on the mound

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Stephen Strasburg struck out seven over 7 ⅓ strong in the series finale with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals got to David Buchanan in the fifth inning of what ended up a 4-1 win. Nats take 3 of 4.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

5. Stephen Strasburg vs the Phillies: In his second start of the season last Tuesday in Boston, Stephen Strasburg gave up 10 hits and five earned runs in 5 ⅓ innings pitched against the Red Sox in what ended up an 8-7 loss in Fenway Park in which he received no decision.

Though he wasn't particularly sharp through the first four innings, Washington rallied with a six-run fifth and took a 7-5 lead over the Sox, so Strasburg was able to go out for another inning of work.

After a quick, 16-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth, the Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick was lifted in the sixth after giving up a one-out single on his 109th pitch of the game.

"I don't think he was as sharp today as he's accustomed to being. Threw a lot of strikes, but not necessarily where he wanted to." - Matt Williams on Stephen Strasburg in Fenway

"It's good," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the loss. "The fact that we came back in the game allowed him to grind a little bit. Came back and tied the score and went ahead.

"We sent him back out there for that last inning with the intention of getting through it, however, his pitch count got to the point where we just couldn't allow him to go any further. But he left with the lead."

The Nationals relinquished that lead in the bottom of the seventh when the Red Sox rallied for three runs against the Nats' bullpen.

The no-decision left Strasburg (0-1) with a 6.75 ERA (11 R, 8 ER in 10 ⅔), a 3.74 FIP, three walks (2.53 BB/9) and 10 Ks (8.44 K/9) after two starts this season.

"I don't think he was as sharp today as he's accustomed to being," Williams said after the outing in Boston.

"Threw a lot of strikes, but not necessarily where he wanted to. But we had a chance to win the game, at the end of it, we had a chance to win it and it didn't happen for us."

Strasburg was facing a more familiar foe in a more familiar environment this afternoon, taking on the Philadelphia Phillies in the finale of the four-game set in the nation's capital.

After going (2-0) with a 1.42 ERA, four walks (1.10 BB/9), 40 Ks (11.02 K/9) and a .229/.254/.314 line against in five starts and 32 ⅔ IP vs the Nationals' NL East rivals last season, Strasburg was left with a (4-1) record, a 2.09 ERA, nine walks (1.17 BB/9), 82 Ks (10.69 K/9) and a .206/.237/.308 career line against in 11 starts and 69 IP against the Phillies.

In his third start of the season today, and his 12th career start vs the Phillies, Strasburg started out strong, retiring the Phillies in order in a quick, eight-pitch, 1-2-3 frame which ended when Philly third baseman Cody Asche K'd swinging through an 89 mph 1-2 change.

A seven-pitch, 1-2-3 second left Strasburg at 15 pitches overall through two scoreless.

Cesar Hernandez tried to bunt his way on in the first at bat of the third, but Danny Espinosa was on it. A groundout to second by Ben Revere gave Strasburg eight-straight outs. A pop to right-center by the opposing pitcher, David Buchanan, gave Strasburg another quick frame. Six-pitch inning, 21 total after three.

Odubel Herrera was way out in front of an 87 mph 2-2 change. Swinging K. Freddy Galvis popped up to a sliding Danny Espinosa in foul territory off third. Cody Asche popped up to the infield, where Ryan Zimmerman made the catch before colliding with Espinosa. Ouch. 11-pitch inning, 32 total after four.

A diving 1-2 change sent Jeff Francoeur back to the third base dugout. Strasburg got up 0-2 on Ryan Howard with a check swing on a filthy 0-1 curve, then dropped the change on the Philly first baseman. 4 Ks. Carlos Ruiz sent an 0-1 change out to left where it dropped in for the first hit of the game for Philadelphia. Working out of the stretch for the first time, Strasburg fell behind Cesar Hernandez 3-1 and walked him. Ben Revere stepped in with two on and two out and sent a one-hopper to short to end an 18-pitch fifth. 50 total for Strasburg after five scoreless.

With the Nationals up 3-0 after a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth, Andres Blanco took an 87 mph 1-2 change for a called third strike and Strasburg's fifth K. Odubel Herrera grounded out to second. Freddy Galvis battled Strasburg for ten pitches and walked with two down, then took third on a single by first by Cody Asche. Jeff Francoeur stepped in with runners on first and third with two out and popped out to center. 21-pitch frame. 71 total after six.

Ryan Howard chased a change into the dirt for a swinging strike three and Strasburg's sixth K. Carlos Ruiz lined out to center on an 0-1 heater. Cesar Hernandez hit a two-out, ground-rule double into the left field bullpen, but he was stranded at second when Ben Revere grounded out to first to end a 13-pitch frame. 84 total.

Strasburg came back out for the eighth with a 4-0 lead, and struck Grady Sizemore out with a 94 mph 1-2 heater for his 7th K on the day. Odubel Herrera took a 95 mph 1-2 heater to center for a one-out double and scored on an RBI single to center by Freddy Galvis. 4-1 Nationals. That was it for Strasburg...

Stephen Strasburg's Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 95 P, 73 S, 7/4 GO/FO.

4. #Spanning: The second surgery of the offseason (sports hernia/right core muscle injury) for 31-year-old outfielder Denard Span led to the Washington Nationals' leadoff man and center fielder missing the first twelve games of the 2015 campaign.

He returned to action this afternoon in the nation's capital, trying to build on a 2014 season in D.C. in which he put up a .302/.355/.416 line with 39 doubles, eight triples, five home runs and 31 stolen bases in 147 games and 668 plate appearances, over which he was worth +4.0 fWAR.

Span struck out in his first plate appearance of the season this afternoon, swinging and missing on a 1-2 change from Phillies' right-hander David Buchanan.

Span was first-pitch swinging and sent a fly to center in his second at bat. 0 for 2.

A single to right with two down in the Nationals' fifth was Span's first hit of the season, however, and he scored on a double to left by Ian Desmond in the next at bat to put the Nationals up, 1-0, and spark a two-out rally that ended only after two more runs scored.

3. Turn it around, Des-E: After a 3 for 5 day at the plate on Saturday, Ian Desmond was left with a .298/.353/.426 line through 51 plate appearances this season and a five-game hit streak, over which he's gone 11 for 21 (.524/.565/.714) with a double, a home run, two walks and a K in 23 PAs.

His hot streak at the plate wasn't what everyone was talking about after the game though.

"He feels horrible about it. So, we support him. We work and there's no substitute for that. So he's out there every day and we rely on him a lot." -Matt Williams on Ian Desmond's defensive issues

It was the fact that Desmond made his eighth error in 12 games so far this season, and the fact that it led to two runs scoring in what ended up a 5-3 loss to the Phillies.

Matt Williams was asked after the game what if anything they could do to help Desmond get past this rough stretch.

"Nothing," Williams said. "Just keep working. He feels horrible about it. So, we support him. We work and there's no substitute for that. So he's out there every day and we rely on him a lot. He'll keep going like he always does."

Williams dismissed the idea that it's just a mental issue now as the errors pile up.

"Both times today he just didn't get a grip on the baseball," the former major league infielder said.

"So, it's one of those things. He'll be back out there tomorrow and playing short for us and helping us win a game."

As for the fact that Desmond has succeeded in not letting the defensive issues affect his performance at the plate, Williams said that the 29-year-old shortstop has done a good job of staying focused on the offensive end.

"He separates pretty good," Williams said. "Nobody wants to go through something like that. But we'll just keep working at it."

One reporter wondered if Desmond had considered or was considered consulting a sports psychologist in an effort to get over what was clearly becoming a frustrating issue with the errors.

"The track record is such that he does have long stretches of no errors, no issues," Williams said. "Our job is to work and to be there and help him get through. He does a lot of things to help us win, so he'll get through this one too."

This afternoon, in the series finale with the Phillies, Desmond singled to center in his first at bat, and took an extra base on an error by Philly center fielder Odubel Herrera.

After successfully handling the first ball hit toward him for the final out of the fifth, Desmond doubled for the fourth time this season, driving Denard Span in to make it 1-0 Nationals. 2 for 3 today.

Desmond ended the day 2 for 4 with two runs scored... and no errors.

2. Turning Point(s): In his first game back off the DL, Denard Span jump-started the offense with a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth. Ian Desmond followed with an RBI double to left, driving Span in, then scored himself on an RBI single to center by Jayson Werth to put the Nationals up 2-0. Ryan Zimmerman sent a flare to right in the next at bat and a hustling Jeff Francoeur couldn't come up with it. 3-0 Nationals when Werth scored. 31-pitch frame for David Buchanan, who was up to 98 pitches and done for the day after five.

1. The Wrap-Up: Philly right Justin de Fratus took over on the mound in the bottom of the sixth and worked around a one-out, shift-busting single to right by Dan Uggla for a scoreless frame.

Dustin McGowan walked Ian Desmond in the first at bat of the Nats' seventh, and two outs later, Desmond scored from second on a broken-bat single to center by Ryan Zimmerman that made it a 4-0 game.

Matt Thornton took over for Stephen Strasburg with a runner on and one out in the Phillies' eighth, and stranded the runner he inherited after two quick outs.

Jeanmar Gomez threw a quick, scoreless bottom of the eighth.

Drew Storen took the hill in Nats Park in the top of the ninth and gave up a leadoff single to left by Ryan Howard. Carlos Ruiz sent a fly to left for out no.1. Cesar Hernandez got all of a 2-1 fastball, but lined out to right field. Ben Revere hit a two-out single to center to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Chase Utley, who grounded back to the mound to end it. Ballgame.

Nationals now 6-7