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As always, Strasburg all business

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As always, Strasburg all business

Perhaps one of these days -- when he throws a no-hitter or throws the final pitch of a pennant-clinching victory for the Nationals -- Stephen Strasburg will offer up the kind of display of emotion few have ever seen from him.

For now, there's very little that can happen on the field to break through the stone-faced visage of a 23-year-old right-hander who expects the very best from himself and isn't about to publicly celebrate his accomplishments.

Strike out seven of 10 batters over a four-inning stretch? Nothing. Club the first home run of your career and be summoned by an overflow crowd of 41,918 for a curtain call? Just give a quick tip of the cap. Find out your manager revealed you were were dealing with some kind of arm trouble? The exterior expression still doesn't change.

"I just think that's his thing," teammate Danny Espinosa said. "He doesn't show emotion, and that's good. If things are going good or bad, there's no emotion shown, which to me is an even-keeled guy."

There were other important developments during the Nats' 9-3 victory over the Orioles Sunday afternoon in the finale of this series. Bryce Harper overcame an early error to deliver the two-run triple that ignited a sleeping lineup. Jesus Flores mashed only his second big-league homer in three years. Espinosa produced two of his biggest hits in weeks.

At the end of the day, though, the spotlight once again shined brightest on the pitcher who has been under the brightest spotlight since the day the Nationals drafted him three summers ago. For plenty of reasons, some positive, some potentially negative.

Through it all, Strasburg stayed calm and determined. He wasn't fazed by a shaky couple of innings to begin his afternoon, when the Orioles scored three runs (two unearned) and jumped out to an early lead that left many wondering whether Strasburg was about to endure through another outing too similar to his previous laborious appearance five days earlier against the Padres.

He simply retired 10 straight batters, striking out seven to silence the Orioles' potent lineup.

"It was almost like deja vu, especially after what happened the previous game," he said. "I wanted to go out there and do a better job of not letting that affect how I attack hitters. It was nice to be able to go out there and adjust from it and keep the team in the ballgame long enough for us to put some runs on the board."

Unlike that game against San Diego, the Nationals stormed back and got Strasburg off the hook. Though he was just as influential in making that happen as anyone in the lineup.

It was Strasburg's leadoff single in the third that set in motion a three-run rally. And then one inning later, he pulled off his most extraordinary feat yet.

Behind in the count 0-2 to Baltimore left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, Strasburg decided to sit on a curveball. He got one, and the force of his swing sent shockwaves throughout the park.

The ball sailed toward left field, sending Xavier Avery back to the fence. Eventually, the Orioles outfielder ran out of real estate and could only watch as the ball landed in the visitors bullpen, then as Strasburg strolled around the bases on a 26-second victory lap following the first home run of his career.

"Shocking," Strasburg admitted. "That's for sure."

He, of course, was being modest. Those who watch Strasburg hit on a regular basis knew this might happen some day.

"Oh, we watch him all the time; it's a display," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think Ryan Zimmerman was joking: He needs to start in the All-Star Game and hit in the Home Run Derby. It's pretty impressive."

Throughout his stroll around the bases, Strasburg never showed any out-of-the-ordinary emotion. He didn't pump his fist. He didn't even appear to smile until he finally returned to the dugout and a few teammates began to rib him.

"I think Strasburg just expects to hit," Espinosa said. "He's a good hitter. He's a good athlete. I don't know, I don't think too much really affects him."

Perhaps not even some arm soreness that may or may not have been significant. Manager Davey Johnson surprisingly volunteered that Strasburg told him following the fifth inning that his right biceps muscle was tight. His pitch count already at 90, Johnson just decided to shut him down for the day.

"His tightness was in his bicep, and he said it was bothering him," the manager said. "Early on, he thought he could get it loose and keep going, but it seemed to get tighter on him. And as soon as I heard that, I said that was it."

Strasburg insisted he had no such issue in his biceps, only the typical kind of fatigue he feels after pitching.

"I wouldn't say it was just my arm," he said. "I think it was just my body."

Strasburg attributed the issue to his having overworked himself in the days since his last start. Perhaps wanting too much to bounce back from a four-inning loss, he did more extensive weight-lifting and throwing in the days since and paid the price for it Sunday when he took the mound.

"Nothing different than any other outing," he reiterated. "It's something that it's going to be like this for probably the rest of the year. It's just part of coming back from Tommy John surgery, building up the innings, getting the stamina and everything. It's something I've just got to be smart about."

Red flags might be waving across town now, but both Johnson and Strasburg insisted he'll make his next start -- currently scheduled for Saturday in Atlanta -- and that there is nothing to be concerned about moving forward. Given Strasburg's history and the manner in which the Nationals have taken extreme precautions with their former No. 1 pick, few would be surprised if the plan changes.

If this is actually something serious, Strasburg certainly wasn't letting on Sunday. He remained his usual self in the postgame clubhouse, chatting with teammates, watching highlights of his performance on MLB Network and eventually showering and dressing for the team's short bus ride to Philadelphia.

For now, he was concerned only with the job he did to help his team snap a three-game losing streak and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Orioles.

That's Strasburg's job, and he's very serious about it.

"To be completely honest, I'm the type of person I want to take ownership," he said. "I want to take charge. I want to be that guy they can rely on to get the job done. At times, I feel like I have to do more to go out there and get the team back on track. And a lot of it's out of my control. I have to go out there and try to do my job. And if everybody does their job, we're going to be OK."

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Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with rival Mets

Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with rival Mets

The Nationals have enjoyed some very good luck with their first round picks in recent years, from Bryce Harper to Stephen Strasburg to Anthony Rendon. Lucas Giolito is still in the very early stages of his MLB career, but looks like a future star.

That has not always been the case for Washington, though, as they swung and missed on plenty of draft picks before Mike Rizzo took over as GM. One of their busts was a left-handed pitcher named Josh Smoker, whom they took with the 31st overall pick in 2007.

Smoker never pitched for the Nats, but has finally reached the majors now nine years later. The New York Mets called him up on Tuesday for his long awaited MLB debut.

Smoker is now 27 and joins the Mets after posting a 4.73 ERA in 43 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. Last year he had a 3.12 ERA across three Mets affiliates.

With his numbers this year, it's hard to tell what type of impact he will make for the Mets in the majors. But if he sticks around, it could make for an interesting storyline in the Nats-Mets rivalry. 

[RELATED: State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next]

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State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next, Ross close?

State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next, Ross close?

Team Record: 58-41

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Inside Trea Turner's pickoff steal - It's a good thing Monday was an off-day because Sunday's 10-6 Nats loss to the Padres featured plenty of moments worth highlighting. One of them was Trea Turner's fourth steal of the season.

It happened in the bottom of the seventh after Turner reached on a fielding error by shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez bobbled a ball that was hit right to him, perhaps a result of Turner's blinding speed. Once on first, Turner took a big lead with former Nats reliever Matt Thornton on the mound and with Jayson Werth at the plate. Thornton threw to first for a pickoff attempt and Turner took off. He reached second with a head first slide, but Wil Myers' throw didn't even make it a close call.

After the game Turner described the sequence and how he was able to pull off a play many could not accomplish.

"I figured [Thornton's move] would be somewhat slow. Wil is really athletic over there, but it's also I think his first or second year playing first base. So, he's still fairly new. I wanted to take a chance and try to get into scoring position. I did and it worked out. You have to account for all of those things. How quickly the first baseman throws and how quick the pickoff move is," Turner said.

Turner was given intel on Thornton's pickoff move and time to the plate. But Myers' inexperience at first base may have been the biggest factor.

"I may think twice if Adrian Gonzalez is over there. He's a lefty and a Gold Glover. Not to say that Wil is bad, but you've gotta take all of that into account," Turner said.

Will Ross be ready to face the Giants? - We know the Nats are likely to have Ryan Zimmerman and Sammy Solis back on Tuesday when they face the Indians, but what about starter Joe Ross? The right-hander remains on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and hasn't started since July 2. But after making a rehab start with the Single-A Hagerstown Suns on Sunday, Ross looks close to returning. And given Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez didn't exactly dominate in their most recent showings, perhaps the Nats have some extra motivation to get Ross back into the mix.

Ross pitched three scoreless innings with Hagerstown and gave up only two hits with no walks. He struck out three and threw a total of 43 pitches, 29 of them strikes. The big question for him is whether the Nats think he has built enough arm strength to return to big league action. He threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session before throwing just 43 in them minors. That's a far cry from the 90-100 he may need to go in an MLB start. In an ideal scenario, they would probably like Ross to get one more rehab outing under his belt, one in which he works up to 75 or so pitches. But given their recent luck with spot starters, perhaps they decide to just roll with Ross instead.

Indians up next - Before the Nats go to San Francisco, they have a two-game series at the Cleveland Indians, the current owners of first place in the AL Central. It should be a good test of interleague play against a team that, despite having just been swept by the Orioles, has the best run differential in the American League.

Cleveland has been good at just about everything this season. They are sixth in the majors in run production and fifth in ERA. They are ninth in team OPS and sixth in OPS against. 

And though they are only playing two games in this series, the Nats will see both of the Indians' best pitchers. Danny Salazar will take the opener Tuesday night with his 2.75 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 111 1/3 innings. And Carlos Carrasco, who has a 2.31 ERA through 14 starts, will go in the second game. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will pitch in those matchups for Washington.

On offense, watch out for Francisco Lindor. At just 22 years old, he's one of the best players in baseball. A defensive mastermind, he also hits .303 and has 12 homers, 49 RBI and 68 runs this season. 

Familiar names Carlos Santana (21 HR, .838 OPS), Jason Kipnis (16 HR, .827 OPS), Mike Napoli (22 HR, 68 RBI) and Lonnie Chisenhall (.303 BA, .819 OPS) are also having very good years. And then there's former first round pick and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Tyler Naquin, who has a .321 batting average and 1.006 OPS in his first major league season.

The Indians look like World Series contenders and should prove a great barometer for where the Nats are right now. The series will also pit two of the game's best managers - Dusty Baker and Terry Francona - against each other.

NL East Standings

Offensive game of the week: Wilson Ramos 7/24 vs. Padres - 3-for-4, HR, 3 RBI, R

Pitching line of the week: Gio Gonzalez 7/20 vs. Dodgers - 6.0 IP, R, 3 H, 6 SO, 2 BB, 97 pitches (56 strikes)

Quote of the Week 

“My grandpa has a wooden leg and he'll tell you I got my speed from him. My mom will say the same thing. My dad says he was faster when he was younger, but I don't know if I believe that. Everyone likes to claim it, but I don't have any proof."

- Trea Turner to CSN on where he got his speed from

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

As the @therealdomingo would say, "this is how you impress the scouts" I love this game! #CurlyW

A photo posted by Bryce Harper (@bharper3407) on

Road Ahead

Mon. - OFF
Tue. - 7:10 p.m. at Cleveland Indians (Gonzalez vs. Salazar)
Wed. - 12:10 p.m. at Cleveland Indians (Strasburg vs. Carrasco)
Thu. - 10:15 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (Roark vs. Cueto)
Fri. - 10:15 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (Scherzer vs. Samardzija)
Sat. - 4:05 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (TBA vs. Peavy)
Sun. - 4:05 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (Gonzalez vs. Cain)

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Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

With the expected return of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman on Tuesday, there will be some shuffling on the Nats roster, most notably with Trea Turner getting bumped from their infield.

Zimmerman, despite his .221/.284/.402 slash this year, is going right back into the starting lineup. He's a proven veteran, went 5-for-12 on his rehab assignment and manager Dusty Baker has already confirmed that plan, not that it needed to be done.

"I've got to get Zim back in the lineup. He’s a big part of our offense. And certainly, if I get Zim back in the lineup, that means [Daniel] Murphy is at second base," Baker said.

Turner will be out of the infield mix, but with Michael Taylor going back to Triple-A Syracuse, the door may be open for Turner to play some in the outfield. A lifelong middle infielder, Turner has been learning center field recently. He played six games there at Syracuse and has been doing outifled drills for several weeks now. 

Turner has shown in recent games the impact he can make offensively. He has 11 hits and four steals in his last nine games and in his last five outings alone has three triples and five runs. The Nats have seen the worst production of any team from their leadoff spot with a dead-last .586 OPS collectively. Taylor's now gone and Ben Revere's still hitting just .216 through 61 games.

"Now we've just got to try to find [Turner's] place with Zim coming back, find a place for him to play," Baker said.

If that is in center field, Turner feels ready to step in. 

"I did it in Syracuse and I'll do it here if they need me to," he said. "It's something that I've embraced, I guess. It's something that I'll do if they need me to. I'll continue to work out there whenever they give me the chance. On days I don't play, I go out there and shag some balls just to make sure I'm staying on top of it. It hasn't happened yet, but if it does I'll be ready."

Six games in Triple-A, of course, is not a lot of action at a brand new position. Whenever Turner does play in center field, there will be a learning curve and perhaps a noticeable drop-off from Revere. But Turner feels he did well in those six chances and can build off that experience.

"[I did] fine. I think I got a couple tough balls hit at me, line drives, and I made the right decisions at the time. I made all the plays that came to me. At the same time, I know it's not as easy as that. You've gotta play balls off the wall. In big league ballparks, it's going to be a lot different everywhere you go. Guys are a lot stronger, so they hit the ball a little bit farther. You've gotta take all that into account as well and learn," he said.

Baker himself has expressed confidence in Turner's ability to transition to the outfield. Earlier this month he offered a comparison to Robin Yount, a Hall of Famer who began his career as a shortstop before moving to center field. Yount won MVPs at both positions.

Zimmerman's return could simply mean Turner is heading back to the bench, ready to step in to give a Nats infielder a day off or wait for pinch-run opportunities. If that's the case, Turner believes he can still make an impact.

"Just keep it simple and do your job, whatever they ask," he said. "I'm still learning. I think you can always figure out ways to come off the bench and take advantage of those opportunities. If I have to do that, running is going to be a huge key. I think that's just a matter of stretching and paying attention by watching video on pitchers in case you get a stolen base opportunity, or whatever it may be."

[RELATED: For Giolito: 'It’s back to the drawing board']

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