Nationals-Marlins instant analysis

Nationals-Marlins instant analysis
April 1, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Game in a nutshell: On a resplendent Opening Day in the nation's capital -- at least, until the clouds, wind and light rain moved in later in the afternoon -- the defending NL East champion Nationals took the field to a standing ovation from an overflow crowd of 45,274 amid expectations this franchise has never before faced. And how did they respond? With a convincing victory over the Marlins sparked by their two biggest stars: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Harper celebrated his first career Opening Day in the big leagues with a bang. Actually, two of them. He homered in each of his first two at-bats of the season, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. Strasburg then set to work, mowing down Miami's lineup with ease over seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits without issuing a walk. Rather than push his young ace on April 1, manager Davey Johnson handed things over to his bullpen to close this one out, and Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano responded in kind. Clippard tossed a scoreless eighth, then Soriano sealed the deal in his Nationals debut, recording the save and getting this highly anticipated season off to a 1-0 start.

Hitting highlight: Hmm, who do you suppose wins this category today? Kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? When you homer in your first two at-bats of the season and earn a curtain call on Opening Day, you've done something right. People questioned whether Harper's electric spring training -- he went on an 11-for-11 tear over the final week -- would translate at all into the regular season. The answer: Did it ever. He tattooed a 1-0 curveball from Ricky Nolasco in the bottom of the first. Three innings later, he battled Nolasco to a full count before destroying a 3-2 slider for his second homer of the afternoon (and the season). The overflow crowd went bananas, drawing Harper out of the dugout for a curtain call, and everyone was poised to do it again in the sixth when Harper came back up looking to match the legendary Tuffy Rhodes' Opening Day record of three homers. Alas, he only managed a hard line drive to left field, lowering his batting average to .667 and his slugging percentage to 2.667. What a bum.

Pitching highlight: Strasburg talked this spring about wanting to be a more efficient pitcher, to get more quick outs, which in turn would allow him to go deeper into games. Well, how's 80 pitches in seven innings sound? The right-hander did exactly as he hoped, forgoing strikeouts (he had only three) in exchange for groundouts (10). Strasburg threw more sinkers than in the past, saved his curveball for two-strike situations and at one point retired 19 Marlins in a row. He certainly looked like he could keep pitching all day, but Johnson decided not to chance it and pulled his ace after the seventh, entrusting the game to his bullpen.

Key stat: Strasburg has now reached the seventh inning in nine of his 46 career starts. He has still never taken the mound for the eighth inning.

Up next: After the customary day off after Opening Day, the Nationals are back on the field at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. Gio Gonzalez gets the start for the Nats against right-hander Kevin Slowey, who starts for the Marlins after projected No. 2 starter Nathan Eovaldi went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.