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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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Scherzer returns to dominant form to end Nats' losing streak vs. Orioles

Scherzer returns to dominant form to end Nats' losing streak vs. Orioles

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: In order for the Nationals to finally beat the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night, Max Scherzer had to pull out all the tricks.

Per usual, he dazzled with his electric fastball, sometimes as an out-pitch, sometimes simply to set up his breaking stuff. He didn't allow a baserunner until the fourth inning and struck out seven of the first eight batters he faced.

Scherzer even fielded a groundball through his legs, from behind. Like, he was turned and facing the outfield, reached down and grabbed the ball, then threw it to first.

Now, that's something you don't see every day. What you do see often, is the dominance Scherzer displayed on Thursday night. He ended up going eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and no walks along the way. That performance led the Nats to a win, their first against the Orioles in their last seven tries.

Jayson Werth put them on the board in the fourth inning with a solo homer to center field off O's starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez was actually pretty good, as he usually is against the Nats. He went six innings with just one run allowed on five hits and no walks. He now has a 2.24 ERA in nine career starts against the Nats.

Daniel Murphy added another run on an RBI single in the eighth. He drove a hard groundball down the first base line to score Trea Turner and notch his 96th RBI of the season. Bryce Harper added a two-RBI double to opposite field in the eighth inning to give the Nats some extra insurance.

The Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with the win and prevented the Orioles from handing them their first sweep since June 20-22 against the Dodgers.

What it means: The Nationals got back in the win column to move to 74-53 on the year.

Scherzer ties his own record: With 10 strikeouts on Thursday night, Scherzer notched his 11th double-digit strikeout game of the year. That leads the majors and matches the Nationals club record for a single season. Scherzer, in fact, tied his own record, set last season. Thursday night was Scherzer's 47th career double-digit strikeout performance.

Werth hits No. 17: Werth obliterated an 89 mile per hour fastball to dead center off Jimenez for his 17th home run of the season. The ball traveled 436 feet and ricocheted off the green wall in the groundskeepers pen. For Werth, it was fifth homer of August, a season-high for one month for the Nats left fielder. He had four homers in April and May, and had just four total between June and July. His 17 are the most he's hit in a year since 2013, when he finished 13th in NL MVP voting.

Harper hits two marks: Harper reached two mini-milestones on Thursday night. One was his 18th steal of the season, which matches the career-high he set as a rookie back in 2012. Harper only had 19 total steals from 2013 through 2015. Now that he's healthy and under the tutelage of first base coach Davey Lopes, he's returned to being a significant threat on the basepaths.

Harper also singled and landed an RBI double and has now reached base in all 12 games since he returned from his neck injury nearly two weeks ago. He's 18-for-46 (.391) with 13 RBI overall during that stretch. The single on Thursday gave him his 100th hit of the season in his 117th game. He got to No. 100 in his 89th game last year.

Up next: The Nats next host the Colorado Rockies, who won two out of three in their series at Coors Field earlier this month. Gio Gonzalez (8-9 4.30) will get the start opposite right-hander Jeff Hoffman (0-1, 13.50) in the Friday night opener.

[RELATED: Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery]

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VIDEO: Max Scherzer makes ridiculous between-the-legs snag vs. Orioles

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VIDEO: Max Scherzer makes ridiculous between-the-legs snag vs. Orioles

Sometimes it's all about taking a stab at it. 

Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, on a comebacker off the bat of Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop on Thursday night in D.C., simply stuck his glove between his legs and hoped for the best. It worked out. 

He made the ridiculous snag below and threw the ball to first for an out. Watch.

MORE NATIONALS: LATEST UPDATE ON STEPHEN STRASBURG

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Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery

Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery

Just three days after Stephen Strasburg was placed on the disabled list with a sore right elbow, the Nats pitcher walked out to the right field at Nationals Park and played catch with a team trainer. He started close, then backed up to play long-toss.

That was a big step for Strasburg, who is on the DL for the second time this season. And, as it turns out, it was the second time already that he's played catch since the injury.

"It's coming out pretty easy. I asked him how he felt afterwards and he said he felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good," manager Dusty Baker said.

The Nationals remain confident that Strasburg's elbow is structurally sound. They now say his soreness isn't even in the same spot where his Tommy John surgery was performed in 2010.

“He knows how he feels. Doctors have poked and prodded and given them every test almost that there is. It’s not in the same area," Baker said.

Strasburg is making progress, but the Nationals still don't know when he will take the next step in his rehab, presumably when he will get on a mound to throw a bullpen session. It's encouraging that he's been throwing, but his timeline to return is still very much in limbo.

“How much time do you give him? You give him enough time for him to feel right. If he’s not right then we got to go with another option," Baker said.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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