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Strasburg bounces back

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Strasburg bounces back

There may be no pitcher in baseball who beats himself up after a poor outing more than Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander might as well be wrapped in Kryptonite during the four days after he takes a loss.
"You don't really want to get close to him," manager Davey Johnson said. "Because he's very cognizant of every little thing that doesn't go the way he plans."
Strasburg may get down on himself after a bad start, but he also rebounds from those rare occasions better than anyone in his profession. Just ask the Marlins, who on Sunday once again served as roadkill for the 24-year-old hurler.
With six scoreless innings of three-hit ball, Strasburg pitched the Nationals to a 4-1 victory and once again erased the negative memories of his prior start.
In that previous outing Tuesday against the Phillies, Strasburg matched his career-high in allowing six earned runs while lasting only four innings (his shortest appearance ever when health wasn't a factor). But history has shown he always bounces back when handed the ball again.
Strasburg has surrendered four or more earned runs only five times in his big-league career. In the five starts that followed, he's now 4-0 with an 0.90 ERA.
"Really?" first baseman Adam LaRoche wondered aloud when told of that fact.
Does that ability to bounce back from a bad start to dominate the next time out reveal something about a pitcher?
"I think after a bad start, you sit down and you look at the mistakes you made," LaRoche said. "And I think for him, a lot of the time, he feels like he mentally let down or over-thought something. ... He comes back after a start and he'll blame himself for the majority of it. So I can see the next time out not allowing himself to go there, to stick with his gameplan and attack everybody, trust how good your stuff is."
Strasburg indeed appeared to go back to basics on Sunday, relying more on his fastball and staying in sync with catcher Jesus Flores. He issued only one walk, struck out six, extended his scoreless innings streak against the Marlins to 27 and still had more left in the tank when Johnson pulled him after 91 pitches.
Cognizant of the heat and humidity on an August afternoon in D.C., not to mention Strasburg's nebulous innings limit in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Johnson decided to turn to his bullpen for the game's final three innings. The philosophy worked, with Craig Stammen giving up back-to-back doubles to open the seventh but then setting down the Marlins in order to close out the inning, Sean Burnett tossing a 1-2-3 eighth and then Drew Storen -- yes, Drew Storen -- pitching a scoreless ninth in his first save opportunity of the season.
Having lost his job to bullpen-mate and roommate Tyler Clippard while recovering from elbow surgery, Storen has been used exclusively in a setup role since coming off the disabled list last month. But after Clippard had pitched on three consecutive days, Johnson decided to let the man who saved 43 games in 2011 get a crack at his first save of 2012.
Storen responded with a dominant inning of relief. Though he allowed a two-out single to Greg Dobbs, he mixed and matched his best assortment of pitches since his surgery, getting devastating movement on his slider, changeup and sinker to baffle the Miami lineup with the game on the line.
"It was good to see him back out there and get that out of the way," Johnson said. "It kind of completes the rehab."
Said Storen: "It was a lot of fun. Especially when you're pitching for a first-place team in that situation, it doesn't get much better than that."
The Nationals afforded Storen the opportunity to close because they jumped out to an early lead thanks to a four-run second inning that featured clutch hits from their two most-consistent offensive forces this season: LaRoche and Strasburg.
LaRoche, who just completed an 11-for-18, 4-homer, 10-RBI week, is not that big a surprise as an offensive contributor. Strasburg, on the other hand, has emerged out of nowhere this season to become the best-hitting pitcher in the game. His two-run single off Ricky Nolasco Sunday raised his batting average to .343 and his RBI total to seven.
Extrapolate his numbers out over a 600 at-bat season, and Strasburg would drive in 120 runs.
"I can't explain it," he said. "Just trying to not strike out every time, just trying to do my job. It's big when you have a pitcher in your lineup who can handle a bat."
And it's even bigger when you have a pitcher in your rotation who can brush off sub-par starts and come back five days later with dominant performances.
All Strasburg has to do is remember what got him here in the first place.
"Nobody's ever come down to first base and said it's a comfortable at-bat," LaRoche said. "Every hitter I've ever talked to down there is not comfortable in the box. That's the best thing a pitcher can ask for. He just needs to believe it every start. He's getting there."

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X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]

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Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]

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