GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After an agonizing loss Wednesday night in which they couldn't produce the one clutch hit that would've won the game — a theme that has been all too familiar this season — the Nationals came back refreshed today hoping for better results in their series opener against the Rangers. Then they got one massively big blast from Ian Desmond, which proved to be the hit that finally opened the floodgates and let this lineup relax and produce at the plate.
Desmond's 3-run homer off Colby Lewis in the bottom of the fourth gave the Nationals the lead and sent the crowd of 31,659 into a tizzy. It also prompted the rest of the lineup to get into the act. They wound up getting a clutch pinch-hit double from Tyler Moore and at least two hits from four different starters to pace their best offensive showing in awhile.
The beneficiary of all that run support: Stephen Strasburg, who shook off one brief, bizarre sequence in the top of the second to put forth one of his best starts in awhile and shut the door on a Texas club that had visions of mounting a comeback. By night's end, the Nationals were able to coast their way to a comfortable victory, one that may prove as cathartic as it was necessary.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: How much did the Nationals need Desmond's bomb in the bottom of the fourth? Well, consider this: It was their first 3-run homer since ... April 16 when Jayson Werth took Jose Fernandez deep in Miami! Yeah, that's a long time. Of the Nationals' last 36 homers, 27 have been solo shots. They simply haven't been delivering really big hits in really big spots. So you can understand why Desmond was handing out emphatic high-fives to everybody within range after he circled the bases tonight. His team-leading 10th homer was needed in the worst possible way.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: If you happened to step into the kitchen for two minutes during the top of the second, you would have thought Strasburg pitched the game of his life. You would've missed a bizarre, three-batter sequence that saw the right-hander butcher an easy comebacker, get a quick visit from head trainer Lee Kuntz, manager Matt Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty, then give up back-to-back singles that left the Nats in a 2-0 hole. Other than that, though, Strasburg was absolutely brilliant. He struck out nine while walking only one, showed command of all three of his pitches and when handed the lead back by Desmond shut out the Rangers over his final two innings. He easily could've come back out for the seventh, but Williams decided to go for some offensive insurance in the bottom of the sixth, and that move paid off, helping make Strasburg a winner tonight.
KEY STAT: The Nationals now have three relievers with ERAs under 1.00: Drew Storen (0.95), Aaron Barrett (0.92) and Rafael Soriano (0.86).
UP NEXT: Set your alarms earlier than usual, because Saturday's game starts at 12:05 p.m. (a byproduct of the Nationals' annual Dream Foundation Gala later in the evening). It'll be Doug Fister looking for his fourth consecutive strong start against Rangers right-hander Nick Tepesch.