Nats' Strasburg's consistency continues with franchise-best 9-0 start

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Nats' Strasburg's consistency continues with franchise-best 9-0 start

Exactly when Stephen Strasburg reached a turning point over the last nine or so months depends on whom you ask and where you look. 

Based solely on the numbers, Strasburg has been a different pitcher ever since he returned from the disabled list last August. In his 21 outings since Aug. 8, 2015, Strasburg is 15-2 with a 2.31 ERA, 182 strikeouts and 28 walks in 140 innings pitched.

For Jayson Werth, there was a noticeable change in Strasburg this spring training.

"He came in and he just had a good feel to him. He looked a little bigger, like he was in real good shape. He was talking a lot, which is always a good sign from him. He doesn’t always say too much," Werth said. 

"It just kind of felt like he was going to have a big year. So far, so good. He’s looked great. Obviously, I think the contract has helped… free agency can mess with some guys’ heads sometimes. He’s not going to have to deal with that."

For batterymate Wilson Ramos, the change in Strasburg is in the details. It's in his health and the way he works around trouble during his starts.

"He’s got a different mindset," Ramos said through an interpreter. "I know in the past his injuries have affected his performance out there. He’s always been a great starter for us. But before this year, it seemed like when he gets behind a run or two his morale would drop. This year, he stays optimistic out there and keeps attacking hitters no matter if he gives up a run or two. He’s very aggressive and it’s shown. He’s doing a great job for us out there."

Whatever the reason or the timing, Strasburg has found a new level of consistency this year, as the Nationals have won all 11 of his starts and at a perfect 9-0, he has the best record to begin a season in franchise history. That bests the 8-0 start for Pedro Martinez back in 1997 when he was with the Expos.

All of Strasburg's last 15 outings have resulted in a Nationals victory. This season he's gone at least six innings in all of his starts and only three times has he allowed more than two runs.

In Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals, Strasburg did what he's become increasingly prone to do. He allowed just one run across six innings and scattered six hits and two walks. The lone run came on a Brandon Moss homer in the fourth inning and that was the only extra-base hit he allowed on the day.

Almost every time the Cardinals threatened, he quickly stopped the bleeding and got the Nationals' defense off the field. 

"He's certainly earning his money," manager Dusty Baker said. "This is big for him, for him and us. He's been trying to figure out probably for a couple years why he's not a big winner because he has the stuff to be a big winner."

Becoming a 'big winner' requires some help, of course, and Strasburg is getting plenty of it. In his 11 starts this season the Nationals are averaging seven runs per game. 

That will take the pressure off.

"The guys swung the bats good today. I was just happy to give them a chance," Strasburg said.

Kim's first major league home run helps Orioles to 6-4 win

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USA TODAY Sports

Kim's first major league home run helps Orioles to 6-4 win

CLEVELAND—It was a terrific way to end a challenging road trip. One that begin with winning two of three against the Los Angeles Angels, but derailed in Houston when the Orioles struck out 52 times. 

On Sunday, the Orioles won an exhausting game against the Cleveland Indians, winning two of three this weekend, and setting them up for a four-game series against the Boston Red Sox at home.

There were plenty of highlights. Hyun Soo Kim hit his first major league home run to give the Orioles the lead, and Darren O’Day rescued Brad Brach from trouble in the eighth inning. 

The Orioles’ 6-4 win over the Indians before 18,565 at Progressive Field, keeps them a game behind the Red Sox, who had lost their previous three games. 

Despite actually losing five of nine on the trip, the Orioles (28-20) can feel good about what they accomplished against Cleveland (26-22) a team that’s in contention for the AL Central.

“It’s half full, half empty. It’s behind us and we’re moving on. I don’t look at it any way. I don’t. Somebody will say you won two out of three series and somebody will say you got beat three times in Houston,” manager Buck Showalter said

With the score tied at four in the seventh, Kim lined a 2-2 pitch off Jeff Manship (0-1) to right field, and the Orioles had a 5-4 lead. 

Kim, who began the season as a virtual outcast because he refused to accept the club’s request that he hone his game in Norfolk. 

Instead, Kim mostly watched for the season’s first several weeks, but produced in his occasional appearances. 

During the road trip with the Orioles striking out at a record pace, Showalter inserted the contact hitting Kim into the lineup, and he’s produced. 

While he did strike out twice on Sunday, Kim walked and hit the home run. 
“I can’t lie that I wasn’t looking for one, but I was mainly focused on making a good hit with good contact and hit the ball as hard as possible,” Kim said through his interpreter. 

In South Korea, Kim showed power. Last year, he hit 28 home runs there, but on his first one in the U.S., he trotted around the bases and ran into the dugout while his teammates ignored him. 

A moment later, they rushed to congratulate him. 

“I’ve seen a reaction like that in Korea, so I was aware of it, so I thought maybe I should just step back until they react,” Kim said. 

The 5-4 lead didn’t look as if it would hold up in the eighth. 

Brad Brach had pitched a scoreless seventh, but Jason Kipnis singled to start the eighth, and Francisco Lindor doubled. Darren O’Day came on to face Mike Napoli, and retired him on a ground ball to third. Jose Ramirez was walked intentionally to load the bases. 

Lonnie Chisenhall fouled off six straight pitches, and was finally called out on strikes for the second out, and Yan Gomes struck out to end the inning.

“That’s what being a reliever is all about, just getting out of situations like that,” O’Day said. 

Normally, O’Day enters a game to start an inning, most likely the eight, with no runners on. This time, he didn’t. 

“Usually when I come in, it’s a clean inning and I make it a bases-loaded situation. I’m used to being in those situations,” O’Day said. “It’s tough, but that’s what relief pitching is all about, stranding runners and keeping your cool when the hitter is also anxious to get the job done.”

Nolan Reimold hit his fourth home run of the year off Tommy Hunter in the ninth to give the Orioles some breathing room. 

Zach Britton pitched the ninth for his 14th save, but it wasn’t easy. Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis started the inning with singles. Carlos Santana hit into a force play, and Britton ended it by striking out Kipnis and Lindor.

The Orioles quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead off Mike Clevinger. 

Adam Jones walked, and with one out, Manny Machado singled and Chris Davis walked to load the bases. Mark Trumbo slammed a ball off the left field wall scoring all three runners. 

Jonathan Schoop doubled to start the fourth and later scored on Ryan Flaherty’s first RBI of the season, a sacrifice fly to center. 

Chris Tillman (7-1) didn’t allow a hit in the first three innings, but arlos Santana led off the fourth with a home run. With one out, Lindor walked and Napoli homered, and the lead was cut to 4-3.

Kipnis tied the score at four with his seventh home run in the bottom of the sixth. 

Tillman gave up three home runs in his first 10 starts, and then equaled that on Sunday. 

Kevin Durant taking heat from Thunder fans after Game 6 loss to Warriors

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Kevin Durant taking heat from Thunder fans after Game 6 loss to Warriors

Kevin Durant is not only one of NBA's best players, but also one of it's best liked players. He's beloved by the Thunder faithful and coveted by just about everyone else (especially Wizards fans). But his poor performance in Saturday's Game 6 loss to the Warriors has drawn unusual recrimination. 

KD seldom finds himself a target of pointed critism, either of his play or demeanor. And when he has gotten flak more recently, it's usually from the media not the public. 

Maybe that's because he comes off as humble and unassuming without being afraid to stand up for himself. Or because his partner in superstardom, Russell Westbrook, is such a lightening rod. Generally speaking, there's just nothing all that offensive or controversial about Durant. 

But the aftermath of Game 6 has been another story entirely. Fans from all over -- including Oklahoma, Texas and Washington D.C. -- have absolutely flogged the 2014 MVP. The blame campaign started as people filed out of Chesapeake Arena. 

Obviously the reaction is extreme and vitriolic. But it reflects intense disappointment in Durant's play and the belief that he doesn't get his fair share criticism for the Thunder's underachievement. 

The seven-time All-Star performed abysmally by his standards, scoring 29 points on 31 attempts (!). Things really devolved in the fourth quarter, where he shot 1 of 7 from the field, turned the ball over twice and looked helpless on defense.

KD was hard to watch (as was Westbrook), but that alone isn't enough to inspire such outrage. The circumstances of the loss added kerosene and struck the match. 

Oklahoma City held a 94-87 advantage with 5:48 left in regulation, at which point Inpredictable.com calculated their win probability at 88 percent. The series could have and should have been a wrap.

Instead, Durant and Westbrook flailed around for four points, six turnovers and two fouls the rest of the way. It was among the more stunning collapses in recent playoff memory. 

And this wasn't a case of constant lead changes. The Thunder had been ahead for nearly the whole night, but imploded in front of a sellout crowd at home (where they had already obliterated the Golden State twice).

Their second of back-to-back losses blew a 3-1 series lead and set up Game 7 in Oakland, where Stephen Curry and the defending champs won 39 of 41 regular season contests. 

The consensus before tipoff had been that Game 6 was a must-win for OKC. The Warriors would become heavy favorites if they were allowed to carry two games of momentum into a death match at Oracle Arena. 

But the Thunder didn't win, and if they lose the series, expect a different narrative than in the past.

"Durant doesn't have the right pieces around him" could turn into "Durant struggles under pressure" very quickly.