Harper passes more concussion tests

Harper passes more concussion tests
April 2, 2014, 8:30 pm
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Updated at 11:15 p.m.

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After the pomp and circumstance (and wackiness) of Opening Day, and then an abrupt day of rest that followed, the Nationals began the true baseball season tonight, the long slog of 162 games in 182 days that tests a team both physically and mentally. If this performance was an indication of things to come, the Nationals have plenty of reason to be optimistic.

With a balanced offensive attack and a quietly dominant pitching performance from Gio Gonzalez, the Nats were in control throughout, beating the Mets to improve to 2-0 on the season. Gonzalez (6 innings of 1-run, 3-hit ball) once again dominated in New York, not only with his arm but also with his bat. The lefty crushed his third career homer, a solo shot in the top of the fifth that included more than a couple moments of hilarity as Gonzalez tried to figure out whether the ball had actually cleared the fence or was still in play.

Not wanting to push his starter too far in the season's first week, manager Matt Williams turned things over to his bullpen for the final three innings. That unit didn't disappoint. Drew Storen retired the side in the seventh, striking out two. (He has now retired all six batters faced this season.) Tyler Clippard struck out three in the eighth, bouncing back from a shaky appearance on Monday. And once the Nationals scored an insurance run to remove the possibility of a save situation, Craig Stammen pitched the ninth, closing out a solid, all-around victory for the Nationals.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Williams filled out an interesting lineup card, one that surely had plenty of people scratching their heads. Adam LaRoche hitting cleanup, with Bryce Harper hitting sixth and Ian Desmond seventh? Well, it worked on this night. LaRoche doubled in the Nats' first run with a nice, opposite-field poke in the top of the fourth. Desmond belted his first homer of the season on the first pitch of the fifth. Jayson Werth, hitting in his more-conventional 3-hole, rapped out four hits, including a double and an RBI single.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Gonzalez's antics at the plate might have draw the most attention (and laughs) but his performance on the mound was more impressive. The left-hander made one mistake right off the bat, allowing a leadoff triple to Juan Lagares in the bottom of the first. After that, he was in complete control. Gonzalez allowed only two more hits the rest of the night, walked only one and struck out six during a highly effective and efficient outing. In doing so, he continued his mastery at Citi Field, where he's now 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 7 career starts.

DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT: When Harper picks up a ball in left field and prepares to fire it toward the plate, it's impossible not to rise to the edge of your seat. Harper might throw a bullet to the plate, or he might throw a rainbow to the backstop. In the fifth inning tonight, he fired a bullet, perfectly placed for Jose Lobaton to make the catch and tag Ruben Tejada for the final out of the inning.

KEY STAT: The Nationals' pitching staff has recorded 31 strikeouts, the most-ever in modern baseball history through a club's first two games of the season.

QUOTABLE: "With everything coming out of spring and a day off, it's easy to have a letdown. But they didn't. They were ready to go today, which was great." — Matt Williams

UP NEXT: The series concludes Thursday afternoon with a matinee at Citi Field. Jordan Zimmermann, coming off an All-Star season in which he led the NL with 19 wins, takes the mound for his first start of 2014. The Mets go with young right-hander Zack Wheeler, one of their long-term building blocks. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. EDT.

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