5. Strasburg vs the Phillies: Coming as it did after a fairly rough ten-hit, five earned run outing against the Boston Red Sox on the road in Fenway Park, Stephen Strasburg's last start against the Philadelphia Phillies in D.C. calmed some early concerns about the '09 no.1 overall pick. After the 26-year-old starter gave up 19 hits and 11 runs, eight earned in 10 ⅓ innings pitched in his first two starts this season, Strasburg shut the Phillies down, allowing a run on five hits and two walks in 7 ⅓ and striking out seven in a 95-pitch effort in which he earned his first win of 2015.
"That may be as good as I've seen him," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the Nationals' 4-1 win.
"He pitched at 92-93 [mph] and was able to reach back when he needed it for 95+, so, I think for me, that makes his changeup even more effective. Today he threw it for strikes when he wanted to. Out of the zone when he needed to.
"I don't know if I've seen him better than that. Pitch count was down. If he didn't give up that run there [in the seventh] and he still had no runs against him he may have gone back out [for the eighth]. Really good. It's as good as I've seen him."
Strasburg said the Phillies helped him be more efficient to some extent.
"They were swinging early, it's kind of part of it," he explained. "You want them to put the ball in play, four pitches or less and they were doing that."
It's been up and down for Strasburg all season, however. He's gone (2-3) in five starts since he last faced the Phillies, with a 7.15 ERA, seven walks (2.78 BB/9) and 25 Ks (9.23 K/9) in 22 ⅔ IP, over which opposing hitters have put up a .323/.371/.521 line against him.
This afternoon in Nationals Park, Strasburg was facing the Phillies for the 13th time in his career, after going (5-1) in the previous twelve, with a 2.00 ERA, 11 walks (1.30 BB/9) and 89 Ks (10.49 K/9) in 76 ⅓ IP in which Phillies' hitters had a combined .204/.238/.303 line.
The outing began with a scoreless 17-pitch first in which he retired the Phillies in order, striking Chase Utley out for out no.3 with an 84 mph 1-2 bender after three heaters at 96, 97 and 97.
Ryan Howard "powered" a 1-2 fastball out to right for a bloop single in the first at bat of the Phillies' second. One out later, Ryan Zimmerman committed a throwing error going for the force at second on a weak roller toward first off of Grady Sizemore's bat. Odubel Herrera stepped in with two on and one out and took a 96 mph 0-2 fastball knee-high outside for a called strike three. Strasburg got up 0-2 on Carlos Ruiz and got a force at second on a grounder to short to end another 17-pitch frame. 34 total.
Ben Revere took a 3-2 curve for ball four and a one-out walk in the Philly third. Revere went around to third on a double to left by Cesar Hernandez, who took an 0-2 change the other way for a grounder by third. Chase Utley sent a grounder to short to bring Revere in, 1-0 Phillies. Ryan Howard doubled to right on a 96 mph 2-2 fastball for a two-out RBI double that made it 2-0 Philadelphia. An 0-2 fastball to Maikel Franco ended up in the right field seats above the out-of-town scoreboard. Two-out, two-run home run, 4-0 Phillies after two and a half. 24-pitch frame. 58 total.
Odubel Herrera doubled to left-center on a 2-2 curve from Strasburg in the first at bat of the Phillies' fourth. Carlos Ruiz tried to sneak a bloop single into short right, but Bryce Harper made a slick diving play to grab it before it reached the outfield grass. Herrera took third on a single to right by Cole Hamels, who advanced to second on an errant throw home by Harper. Ben Revere lined an RBI single to left in the next at bat, but Hamels was thrown out at home inexplicably trying to score. 5-0. Revere scored from second on a Cesar Hernandez grounder through short and the Phillies took a 6-0 lead on Strasburg's 73rd and last pitch.
• Stephen Strasburg's Line: 3.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 73 P, 51 S, 7/0 GO/FO.
4. Trade Cole Hamels: The Nationals put two runners on in the top of the first inning of their first matchup with 31-year-old Phillies' lefty Cole Hamels this season back on April 11th in Citizens Bank Park, but failed to drive either runner in. Hamels then proceeded to retire 20 of the next 22 batters he faced, allowing only a leadoff walk to Doug Fister in the third and a solo home run by Wilson Ramos in the fourth on his way to a seven-inning outing in which he allowed just two hits, two walks and the one earned run.
"Early on he was a little outside the strike zone," Matt Williams said after the 3-2 loss in Philadelphia.
"Not typical of him, but we had some chances against him and that's why he's such a good pitcher, he gets out of those situations that he's in."
Washington's hitters got to Hamels the next time they faced him, however, five days later in Nationals Park. Yunel Escobar took the left-hander deep on his first pitch of the game for an early 1-0 lead, Ramos drove in a run in the fourth, Michael Taylor hit another solo blast in first at bat of the fifth and Ryan Zimmerman drove in two runs with a double in the sixth in Hamels' final inning of work in what ended up a 5-2 loss for the Phillies' ace.
"He's been tough on us. Tough on everybody, but especially us," Williams said after that win.
"We got opportunities. We created opportunities for ourselves. Wilson [Ramos] with the broken-bat hit to tie and then a big swing from [Ryan Zimmerman], stayed on a fastball away and hit it well, so, we just want to keep creating those opportunities. If we do that then at some points we're going to come through."
With exception of one rough outing in Miami (10 H, 6 ER), Hamels has been solid since the last time the Nationals faced him, with a (4-1) record in six starts, a 2.45 ERA and .231/.309/.293 line against over his last 40 ⅓ IP.
In 34 starts against the Nationals before this afternoon's the '02 1st Round pick out of San Diego, CA was (15-9) with a 2.72 ERA, 61 walks and 225 Ks (9.00 K/9) in 225 IP against the Philadelphia's NL East rivals from D.C., over which Washington's hitters put up a combined .218/.275/.349 line.
His 35th career start vs the Nats began with a quick, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 first. An 11-pitch, 1-2-3 second left him at [checks math] 21 pitches total after two.
Dan Uggla singled on a grounder off the third base bag in the first at bat of the Nats' third, and took second on a sac bunt by Stephen Strasburg, but he was stranded there when Denard Span K'd looking to end a 15-pitch third that left Hamels at 36 pitches.
A 5-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth left Hamels at 41 pitches. The southpaw worked around the Nationals' second hit of the game and a one-out walk for a scoreless 24-pitch fifth that pushed him up to 65 pitches.
Yunel Escobar doubled by third with two out in the home-half of the sixth, but he was stranded and Hamels was through six scoreless on 77 pitches after a 12-pitch frame.
An 11-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh left Hamels at 88 pitches after seven scoreless.
Ian Desmond drove in a run with a two-out double to right that also extended his personal hit streak to eight straight games. 8-1 Phillies. 16-pitch frame for Hamels. 106 total after eight.
• Cole Hamels' Line: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks, 104 P, 73 S, 8/5 GO/FO.
3. Just LOLz, Ryne: Maybe it's more frustration with the fact that his Phillies have dropped five of the last six to their NL East rivals from D.C., after having won seven of their last eight between August 2014 and April 2015, or the fact that Philadelphia's hitters have a combined .199 AVG against the Nationals in those last six games with an average of just 2.33 runs per game during that 1-5 stretch.
Or maybe it's that the Phillies are 11-22 in their last 33 games in Nationals Park?
Or maybe it's the fact that the slow jams the Natonals play over the PA during opposing team's batting practice in the nation's capital is working as intended.
Whatever it is, Phillies' skipper Ryne Sandberg went public with his frustrations before today's game:
Sandberg said the Nats playing soft music during Phils BP bush league, but the really irritating thing is they make the Phils start BP late.— Dennis Deitch (@OldDennyDeitch) May 23, 2015
Sandberg also said the Phils will be making life equally miserable for the Nats next time they are in Philly.— Dennis Deitch (@OldDennyDeitch) May 23, 2015
Nationals have been playing over-the-top soft rock during Phillies' BP. Phillies plan to return favor when Nats visit Philly.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) May 23, 2015 Lulz. They got their revenge on the field today, snapping the Nationals' six-game win streak.
2. Turning Point(s): Stephen Strasburg played against exaggerated type in the second, working around a one-out E:3 by Ryan Zimmerman for a scoreless 17-pitch frame in which he stranded two runners.
• He wasn't able to work his way out of trouble in the third, however, as a one-out walk started a Phillies' rally that did not end until it 4-0 following an RBI groundout by Chase Utley, RBI double by Ryan Howard, and a two-out, two-run home run to right by Mikael Franco on an 0-2 fastball that ended up in the seats above the out-of-town scoreboard.
A leadoff double and a couple of errors in the fourth led to two more runs scoring and the end of Strasburg's outing after just 3 ⅔ with the Phillies up 6-0.
1. The Wrap-Up: A.J. Cole took over for Stephen Strasburg with two out in the top of the fourth and recorded out no.3, but in the first at bat of the fifth he gave up a solo home run by Ryan Howard on an 0-1 change to the Phillies' veteran slugger. 7-0 Philadelphia. Howard's 10th.
Ben Revere singled to start the sixth and scored on a double to right-center by Cesar Hernandez when the Nationals committed their fifth error of the game on the throw in. 8-0 after five and a half.
Cole recorded two Ks, one with a diving 1-2 curve and one with a 91 mph fastball up high to Odubel Herrera in a quick, 13-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh. And the right-hander added two more strikeouts in a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth. Nine-straight set down.
Casey Janssens made his 2015 debut in the top of the ninth with an eight-pitch, seven-strike, 1-2-3 frame. Still 8-1 Phillies. That's how it ends.
Nationals now 25-18