5. Strasburg vs Harvey: Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals were showered with cheers of "Harvey's bett-er!" when the '09 no.1 overall pick matched up against the New York Mets' 2010 first-rounder back on April 13, 2013 in Citi Field. Harvey did outduel Strasburg that night, allowing just one run on four hits in seven innings of work in which he struck out seven batters. Strasburg gave up five hits, two of them home runs, two walks and four runs total, two earned, that night, striking out six in six innings of work on the mound in the Mets' home.
Harvey improved to (4-0) on the year with the win that night, and he went on to put together a solid run that ended on August 24th, when the right-hander suffered a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery as Strasburg had during his rookie season in 2010. Harvey finished the year (9-5) in 26 starts with a 2.27 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 31 walks (1.56 BB/9) and 191 Ks (9.64 K/9) in 178 ⅓ IP.
Harvey finally underwent the procedure in October of that year, so he missed the entire 2014 campaign.
This afternoon in Nationals Park, the two hard-throwing right-handers matched up again in Harvey's return to the mound in the majors for a marquee matchup in the series finale in Nationals Park.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked before today's game about getting to see Strasburg and Harvey hook up, breaking it down from a fan, manager and hitter's perspective.
"High-powered arms that have come back successfully from a really serious surgery, which is good," Williams said when asked about the head-to-head battle.
"Matt is one of the great starters in our game and so is Stephen. From a baseball perspective and a fan perspective, it's nice to see them lock horns. We'd just as soon that we get to Matt early and often and let Stephen cruise. That would be a formula that we'd love today, but it's good for baseball, sure."
"Somewhere over 90 max," is soft pitch limit for Matt Harvey, Terry Collins said. Jacob deGrom threw 92 pitches Wednesday.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) April 9, 2015
The former major league slugger-turned-manager said facing either starter is, obviously, a difficult assignment for anyone.
"As a hitter," he explained, "I wouldn't necessarily be comfortable facing either one of them, so I'd try to limit what I swing at, pick a side of the plate or pick a pitch that I want to hit. From a manager's perspective, we know that Terry [Collins] isn't going to run him out there for a 115 pitches, so he's going to be limited in that regard.
"So from a manager's perspective, we want to be patient with him today, we want to make sure he's throwing the ball over the plate, not chase balls, elevate that pitch count as much as we can in hopes of getting him out of the game.
"From Stephen's perspective," Williams continued, "we know he's been 85 pitches, he's good to 100.
"We know that, depending on stress innings and all of that, we can push him into the seventh inning, maybe the eighth inning hopefully and see where he's at after that. There's all kinds of different ways to look at it, but from a baseball perspective it's a lot of hard work from both of them to even get back to pitching, let alone having success."
Since returning from Tommy John in September 2011, Strasburg has gone (38-27) with a 3.03 ERA, a 2.93 FIP, 149 walks (2.30 BB/9) and 654 Ks (10.12 K/9) in 97 starts and 581 ⅓ IP.
The second head-to-head matchup of their respective careers began with Strasburg walking Curtis Granderson in an eight-pitch at bat, but the ninth pitch from the Nats' right-hander was a 94 mph heater that absolutely shattered David Wright's bat and drew a 4-6-3 DP out of the Mets' third baseman. Lucas Duda took a knee-high, full count fastball for ball four and the second walk of the frame, and Michael Cuddyer sent a low liner back up the middle for a two-out single, but Daniel Murphy's fly to left ended an 18-pitch inning.
Harvey issued a one-out walk to Yunel Escobar after dispatching Michael Taylor with a cruel 83 mph 1-2 curve that followed a 95 mph heater. Harvey geeked up to 97 mph on a high 1-2 fastball that got Bryce Harper swinging for out no.2 and got an assist from his catcher, Travis d'Arnaud, who threw Escobar out trying to steal second, ending an 18-pitch frame.
Strasburg needed nine pitches to retire the Mets in order in the second, leaving him at 27 overall.
Harvey gave up back-to-back two-out hits, a double by Ian Desmond and an infield single by Dan Uggla, but caught Jose Lobaton looking with a 3-2 curve to end a 22-pitch second inning. 40 total after two.
Strasburg left a 2-2 curve up to Granderson with one down in the third, giving up a single to right field. David Wright grounded to short in the next at bat, for what looked like double play no.2 by the Mets' third baseman, but the ball jumped up on Ian Desmond and hit him in the chest, and Desmond's rushed throw to first arrived late. E:6. A 1-2 bender hit Lucas Duda in the foot, loading the bases for Michael Cuddyer, whose RBI line drive single to right made it 1-0 New York. Daniel Murphy's one-hop chopper in the next at bat brought in run no.2, 2-0. One out later, Travis d'Arnaud dumped a soft fly into short center to bring in two more and make it 4-0 New York.
Strasburg was up to 55 pitches, when Wilmer Flores K'd looking at a 12 fastball to end a 28-pitch inning.
Given a 4-0 lead to work with, Harvey went out and worked around a two-out single by Yunel Escobar, striking Bryce Harper out with a 1-2 heater up high to end a relatively quick, 17-pitch frame at 57 total after three.
David Wright dropped a two-out single into short-center in the Mets' fourth, but a fly to left by Lucas Duda ended a 14-pitch frame for Strasburg. 69 total.
Ian Desmond reached on a two-out error in the Nats' fourth, but he was forced out at second on a Dan Uggla grounder to third that ended an eight-pitch frame which left Harvey at 65 total.
A check-swing strike three on a 94 mph heater to Juan Lagares ended a quick, 11-pitch fifth by Strasburg, which left him at 80 pitches.
Michael Taylor singled to center on an 0-2 slider with two down in the Nats' fifth, but Yunel Escobar's groundout to second ended a 12-pitch inning by Harvey, who was up to 77 pitches.
Travis d'Arnaud and Wilmer Flores hit back-to-back singles to left to start the sixth, but Matt Harvey fouled off a two-strike bunt attempt when Strasburg threw him a curve. Literally. Curtis Granderson worked the count full in the next at bat, and walked, on Strasburg's 94th pitch of the game. David Wright stepped in with the bases loaded and one out and lined a first-pitch fastball to right field. 6-0 Mets. 95 pitches for Strasburg.
• Stephen Strasburg's Line: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 Ks, 95 P, 68 S, 3/4 GO/FO.
The line on Stephen Strasburg: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 5 K -- 95 pitches, 68 strikes. pic.twitter.com/gS3fiYNS2j— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 9, 2015
Bryce Harper worked the count full vs Harvey in the first at bat of the Nats' sixth, and went down swinging at a letter-high heater. Ryan Zimmerman sent a fly to left and Clint Robinson K'd swinging to end a 14-pitch frame that left Harvey at 91 pitches.
• Matt Harvey's Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 91 P, 63 S, 4/4 GO/FO.
4. Mr. Robinson: With an impressive run in Spring Training, (.333/.404/.608, 6 2B, 2 HR in 28 G, 51 ABs), 30-year-old, left-handed hitting and throwing 1B/OF Clint Robinson earned a spot on the Nationals' Opening Day roster after signing a minor league deal with Washington this winter.
This afternoon in Nats Park, Robinson made his first start for the Nationals against hard-throwing Mets' right-hander Matt Harvey.
"Matt [Harvey's] got a big fastball, Clint can hit a fastball," Nationals' manager Matt Williams explained when asked about inserting Robinson in the lineup in left. "Gives him a chance to get in there and get a start and get a few at bats under his belt, so it's good for him."
"On the surface," Williams said, "it seems like a good matchup for Clint, because we've got a fastball pitcher and a short swing and powerful guy at the plate.
"It's not to say he's going to get four hits today, but we get him an opportunity to get in there and face a guy that really runs it in there, which [Robinson] will do coming off the bench, he'll get the back of the bullpen and good fastball guys, so it gives him the opportunity to get some at bats."
Williams was asked what to expect from Robinson when he's on and locked in at the plate? Will he be sending shots to left-center? Right-center?
"Both," he said. "I think if he's swinging the bat well, off his bat it's kind of low and hard to left-center field and he lofts the ball to his pull side, he's got power to his pull side. If he's going well, he's seeing the ball well, he's swinging at strikes and not swinging at balls off the plate. That's what he did all Spring. He just had good at bats and hit the ball to left-center field as well as he did to right-center field. He impressed us, that's for sure."
Robinson, after looking a little less than comfortable on a couple fly balls to left field, stepped in against Harvey for the first time with one down in the second and sliced a 95 mph 1-2 curve out to left, where Michael Cuddyer made the catch, 0 for 1.
At bat no.2 for Robinson came in the fourth, when he sent a fly ball to deep center that Juan Lagares tracked down. 0 for 2.
Robinson's third trip to the plate came with two down in the sixth, when he went down swinging at a brutal 88 mph 1-2 change. 0 for 3 vs Harvey.
3. Ian Desmond: Through two games, an obviously small sample size, 29-year-old Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond has looked off at the plate, going 0 for 7 with two Ks.
"The first two games anyways, his timing is a touch off," Matt Williams agreed when he spoke to reporters before today's series finale with the Mets. "He looks just a touch late to me, so he's working hard on making sure he's on time. When it's on time, it's special, it's powerful, he can do a lot of things on the baseball field.
"Like anybody, if he's not on time then you can struggle a little bit. And the guys that we've seen with Bartolo [Colon], great movement, great late movement, and [Jacob] deGrom last night with a really good fastball and an even better one coming today from Matt [Harvey]. On time is really important, so he's working hard on that, he'll figure it out quickly."
Desmond went with a 97 mph 1-2 fastball outside from Harvey and doubled to right for his first hit of the season in his first at bat, then took third on an infield single by Dan Uggla, but was stranded there when Jose Lobaton K'd looking to end the frame.
Desmond reached on an error in his second at bat with two down in the fourth, but was forced at out second. 1 for 2 vs Harvey.
After walking in his third trip to the plate, Desmond doubled for the second time today in the ninth, taking a first-pitch fastball from Juerys Familia the other way. 2 for 3 with a run scored, walk and an E.
2. Turning Point(s): Stephen Strasburg left a 2-2 curve up for Curtis Granderson in the third, and the Mets' leadoff man sent it to right for a one-out single, but as he had in the first after walking Granderson, Strasburg pulled a double play grounder out of David Wright in the at bat that followed, only to have Ian Desmond take a bad hop off the chest when it jumped on him late. Desmond rushed a throw to first, but it arrived too late, and it all went south after that, with the Mets scoring four runs after the Nats' shortstop's third error in three games. Blame Strasburg all you like if you think he didn't react well, but he was out of the frame before the E:6, and nothing in the inning was hit particularly hard. [ed. note - "With the exception of Michael Cuddyer's RBI line drive to right."]
1. The Wrap-Up: Nats' lefty Xavier Cedeno took over for Stephen Strasburg with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, and struck Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer out to end the frame.
Tanner Roark worked a scoreless seventh, allowing one hit. Alex Torres took over for NY in the bottom of the inning and after he put two runners on, Buddy Carlyle took over and retired one batter before giving up a two-run double to center by Michael Taylor, 6-2 after seven. Roark came back out for another scoreless inning of work in the eighth.
Carlos Torres completed a scoreless eighth with help from Daniel Murphy, who made a Jeter-esque spinning throw from short center on a grounder up the middle by Tyler Moore.
Aaron Barrett took over the Nats in the ninth and retired the Mets in order.
Jeurys Familia gave up a leadoff double by Ian Desmond, and a one-out RBI single by Reed Johnson, 6-3. That's how it ended.
Nationals now 1-2