5. Strasburg vs the Marlins: In his last eight starts before this afternoon's against the Miami Marlins, going back to May 29th, Stephen Strasburg had allowed two earned runs or less. He was (5-1) over that stretch, with Washington 6-2 in his outings, over which the 27-year-old, 2009 no.1 overall pick put up a 1.69 ERA, eight walks (1.69 BB/9), 50 Ks (10.55 K/9) and a .167/.209/.300 line against in 42 ⅔ innings pitched.
In four August starts, the Nationals' right-hander put up a 1.73 ERA, a 2.00 FIP, three walks (1.04 BB/9) and 32 Ks (11.08 K/9) in 26 innings, over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .154/.183/.300 line.
Strasburg followed up on that outing with six innings of work on the mound against the San Diego Padres last time out in which he gave up two hits, a walk and two earned runs in what ended up an 8-3 win.
Matt Williams too was impressed with what he saw from Strasburg.
"I thought that, for me, the fastball down command was good tonight," he said. "Threw a lot of balls at the bottom of the strike zone, a lot of fastballs. And when he does that, breaking balls open for him, changeups open for him."
"That's a harder pitch to hit," Strasburg said when asked about working down in the zone. "If you live up in the zone, around the belt and stuff like that, they're going to hit a couple."
In the series finale with Miami, Strasburg was facing the Marlins for the third time this season, after going (0-2) in the previous two outings with a 6.00 ERA and a .333/.415/.444 line against in nine innings.
In the first two at bats of today's game, Dee Gordon bunted for a hit and Ichiro Suzuki doubled to right to put runners on second and third with no one out. One out later, Marlins' slugger Justin Bour crushed a 95 mph 2-2 heater and hit a three-run blast to right-center field to make it 3-0 early in the series finale. 17-pitch first.
Adeiny Hechavarria bunted for a hit in the first at bat of the top of the second, but he was stranded three outs later as Strasburg completed a nine-pitch frame at 26 total.
A 15-pitch, 1-2-3 third ended with Bour swinging over a 1-2 change outside. 41 total after three.
After the Nationals pulled within one on a Jayson Werth blast in the third, Derek Dietrich led off the top of the fourth with a solo shot to the second deck in right on a 93 mph 1-1 fastball. 4-2 Fish. Hechavarria singled with one down, and took second on a two-out single by Brad Hand, but both runners were stranded when Dee Gordon grounded into a force at third. 19-pitch frame, 60 total after four.
Strasburg, whose velocity was down around 92-94 throughout the game, after averaging 97 mph and hitting 98.9 last time out, was lifted after four innings. No word on why until after the game, as per usual with the Nationals, who have a policy of not making injury announcements in-game.
Doug Fister took over on the mound...
• Stephen Strasburg's Line: 4.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 Ks, 2 HR, 60 P, 43 S, 4/1 GO/FO.
4. Upper Hand: Left-hander Brand Hand managed to avoid facing the Washington Nationals in the three series with Miami's divisional series before this weekend, which is probably a good thing for the 25-year-old starter, who was (0-5) in nine games and seven starts vs the Nats before this season, with a 7.71 ERA and a .299/.383/.507 line against in 32 ⅔ IP.
After moving back and forth between the Marlins' bullpen and rotation this season, Hand started five games in August, going (3-1) with a 2.90 ERA, a 3.60 FIP and a .258/.296/.390 line against in 31 innings pitched.
In eight starts this season, the '08 2nd Round pick (4-2) with a 3.80 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, eight walks (1.69 BB/9), 26 Ks (5.48 K/9) and a .277/.315/.411 line against in 42 ⅔ IP.
When he took the mound this afternoon, Hand was coming off an eight-inning start in which he gave up nine hits and two earned runs in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Tremendous," Marlins' skipper Dan Jennings said when asked about Hand's start. "Starting pitching sets the tone and he set the tone and the kid had just a tremendous outing."
"I think he was at 67-68% strikes on the night and I thought he located very, very well," Jennings continued.
"He got in a good tempo and good rhythm after that first inning and utilized his slider, used his changeup very well and pitched ahead in a big way."
His first start of the season against the Nationals began with a quick, 13-pitch, two K, 1-2-3 first.
Ian Desmond walked with one down in the second, but was stranded two outs, and two Ks, later. 20-pitch frame, 33 total after two.
Michael Taylor hit a soft liner to right field for the Nats' first hit off the Marlins' lefty, and Stephen Strasburg bunted him over/gave up an out. Jayson Werth worked the count full in the next at bat and flat-crushed a 93 mph fastball sending a two-run blast into the left field bullpen. 3-2 Marlins. 20-pitch third, 53 total.
Ian Desmond walked to start the fourth, but was doubled up on a Wilson Ramos grounder, and Danny Espinosa grounded out as well to end a quick frame by Miami's lefty. 11-pitch frame, 64 total.
Taylor singled again to start the Nationals' fifth, and moved up on a bunt by Doug Fister before scoring on an RBI double to left by Jayson Werth that made it 4-3 Marlins. One out later, Werth scored on an opposite field single by Bryce Harper, who went the other way with a 2-2 slider. 4-4. Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single put runners on the corners with two out, and Ian Desmond drove Harper in with a single to center that made it 5-4 and knocked Hand out.
• Brad Hand's Line: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 1 HR, 80 P, 51 S, 6/0 GO/FO.
3. Random Game Notes: Ryan Zimmerman started today's series finale with a six-game RBI streak and hits in five of his last six games, over which he's 6 for 21 with a double and three home runs.
• For today's Nationals-themed "Fun with Arbitrary End Points" segment: In 37 games since July 20th, Ian Desmond has hit five doubles, a triple and 10 HRs, with 12 walks, seven stole bases and a .309/.365/.581 line over that stretch.
• Bryce Harper started the series finale with a ten-game on-base streak, with hits in 9 of 10. He was 14 for 46 over that stretch with five doubles, a home runs, seven walks and six runs.
• Harper started the day first in the NL in SLG (.632), OBP (.458), and fWAR (+7.5), and second in AVG (.332) and runs scored (89).
• Anthony Rendon took a seven-game hit streak into the finale with the Marlins, over which he was 11 for 26, with a double, two home runs, five walks and a .423/.516/.692 line over the course of the streak.
• With last night's win, the Nationals pulled within a game in the season series with the Marlins, who hold a 6-5 lead in 2015.
• Marlins' second baseman Dee Gordon started the day second in the majors in AVG (.332), behind only Bryce Harper (.334).
• Heading into the series finale, Martin Prado has reached base in 24 of 25 games with a .287 AVG and a .349 OBP over that stretch.
2. Turning Point(s): Stephen Strasburg has struggled with runners in scoring position all season, to the tune of a .359/.378/.500 line in 85 PAs (vs a .211/.251/.372 line in 235 PAs with the bases empty) and Justin Bour hit the third home runs of the season in the 87th plate appearance against Strasburg with runners in scoring position after Dee Gordon bunted for a hit and Ichiro Suzuki doubled to right in the first two at bats of this afternoon's series finale in D.C. 3-0 Miami early.
• Michael Taylor returned to the lineup after a scary collision with the wall the other night in Nats Park, and singled to right field for the first hit off Marlins' starter Brad Hand in the first at bat of the third. One out later, with Taylor on second after a sac bunt by Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth worked the count full and crushed a 93 mph fastball from Miami's lefty, sending a two-run blast into the visitor's bullpen to get the Nationals within one. 3-2.
• One batter into the fourth, however, the Marlins had a two-run lead after Derek Dietrich sent a solo shot into the second deck in right field in Nationals Park. 4-2 Fish.
• The Nationals rallied in the home-half of the fifth and tied it up with Michael Taylor singling and scoring on an RBI double by Jayson Werth. Bryce Harper went the other way with a two-out, 2-2 slider from Hand and drove Werth in to tie it up at 4-4. Ian Desmond kept the line moving with an RBI single to center that brought Harper in and the Nats took a 5-4 lead into the sixth.
• One out after Danny Espinosa doubled to start the sixth, Clint Robinson crushed a 99 mph 3-1 fastball from Marlins' righty Erik Cordier and gave a fan in the upper deck in right a souvenir. No.7 for Robinson. 7-4 Nationals.
1. The Wrap-Up: Doug Fister took over for Stephen Strasburg in the top of the fifth, and gave up a one-out walk to Martin Prado before getting an inning-ending double play out of Justin Bour.
After Brad Hand gave up the lead in a five-hit fifth, Erik Cordier came on to record the final out of the frame in what was a 5-4 game in the Nationals' favor.
Derek Dietrich doubled to start the sixth, but was stranded three outs later when Michael Taylor caught a long fly to right off Jeff Mathis' bat a step in front of the out-of-town scoreboard. 10-pitch frame for Fister.
Danny Espinosa doubled to start the Nationals' half of the sixth and scored on a massive blast to right by pinch hitter Clint Robinson, who crushed a 99 mph 3-1 fastball from Cordier. 7-4 over the Marlins.
Felipe Rivero threw a quick, scoreless, 16-pitch seventh with some help from Danny Espinosa's defense at second.
Brian Ellington gave up a one-out walk by Ian Desmond and a single by Wilson Ramos, but got an inning-ending double play out of Danny Espinosa.
Drew Storen retired the Marlins in order in a 13-pitch, nine-strike, 1-2-3 eighth.
With the score still 7-4 after eight, Jonathan Papelbon came on looking for save no.22 of 2015 and his fifth with the Nationals. Bryce Harper battled the "sun monster" and dropped a fly to right off Adeiny Hechavarria's bat with one down. Ruled a double. J.T. Realmuto stepped in next and popped out to short. TWO!
Christian Yelich singled to right on a first-pitch fastball, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Dee Gordon, who was firs-tpitch swinging and grounded into a force at short. Ballgame.
Nationals now 66-63