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Strasburg the stopper delivers for Nats

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Strasburg the stopper delivers for Nats

PITTSBURGH -- The sheer numbers blow you away. Thirteen strikeouts in only six innings. Seven in a row. A 1.64 ERA in seven starts this season. A 1.59 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 12 total starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.

At some point, the Nationals stop being amazed by Stephen Strasburg. Because it seems he never fails to deliver.

"You get used to seeing it," first baseman Adam LaRoche said following Thursday night's command performance in a 4-2 win over the Pirates. "You've got a guy that goes out there and throws the way he does every single fifth day, you kind of start to expect it. That's a good thing."

It's an even better thing when the Nationals are able to send Strasburg to the mound in an attempt to stop a losing streak dead in its tracks. Having dropped three straight and in danger both of being swept by Pittsburgh and falling out of first place in the NL East for the first time in 30 days, the Nationals desperately needed Strasburg to come up big.

Which is exactly what the 23-year-old ace did. Even if he still shies away from the label.

"You guys can put me in that role all you want," he said. "But I'm going to sit here and say that there's four other guys in this rotation that can do it, too."

True, fellow starters Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler all are capable of ending a losing streak. But make no mistake, they can't do what Strasburg did Thursday night at PNC Park. Few in baseball right now can.

Facing the Pirates for the first time since mowing them down during his 14-strikeout, major-league debut 23 months ago, Strasburg again made mincemeat of Pittsburgh's lineup. He struck out seven consecutive batters from the bottom of the first through the bottom of the third, then added six more before finally taking a seat after the sixth.

And this, remember, is the "new" Strasburg who since returning from elbow surgery has made a concerted effort to strike out fewer opposing batters while trying to induce contact earlier in the count.

Did the right-hander surprise even himself with his baker's dozen worth of Ks in this outing?

"Maybe a little bit," he said. "But when the stuff's working like tonight, I'm just going to go out there and just throw it, and it doesn't really matter what you throw."

It didn't seem to matter to the Pirates, who flailed away at everything Strasburg fired in their direction. Of his 13 strikeouts, 11 came on swings-and-misses. Seven came on fastballs. Three apiece came on curveballs and changeups.

"That's a good arm," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said in the understatement of the night. "The arm's fresh, it's legit. And he's got a good head to work with it. The progress he's made in a short period of time at this level is really something."

For a while, though, Strasburg's dominance was in danger of being wasted. Unable yet again to get anything going at the plate, the Nationals entered the top of the sixth trailing 2-0 and having squandered whatever opportunities they had to score against veteran Kevin Correia.

And then with one titanic blast off the bat of Roger Bernadina -- a 430-foot home run into the back bullpen in deep left-center field -- the entire visitors dugout was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

"To get us back to within one, I think it did," LaRoche said. "I think that was kind of the blow we needed to get guys pumped up a little bit."

Two batters later, LaRoche stepped to the plate and nearly duplicated Bernadina's feat, crushing another Correia pitch into the front bullpen to give the Nationals a 3-2 and put Strasburg in line for the win.

"You don't have room for error when you're facing a guy like Strasburg," Correia said.

No, but Strasburg did make things interesting when he retook the mound with that one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth. After recording two quick outs, he proceeded to load the bases on three consecutive walks.

"Just started to nibble a little bit," he said, "trying to throw the perfect pitch."

Strasburg took a deep breath and reminded himself to trust his stuff and not feel the need to try to overpower the next hitter. Which he did in blowing a 96 mph fastball past Garrett Jones to snuff out the rally and end his night on a high note.

"I was going to challenge him," Strasburg said of Jones, who is now 0-for-6 with five strikeouts in his career against him. "I wasn't going to walk him and walk in a run to tie it up. I was going to make him beat me."

Victory was not yet in hand for the Nationals, though. They needed a scoreless seventh inning from Ryan Mattheus and a scoreless eighth from Tyler Clippard. Rick Ankiel's moonshot into the right-field bleachers in the top of the ninth provided a little extra cushion for Henry Rodriguez, who rebounded from his blown save Tuesday night to close out the Pirates and secure this much-needed win.

Not to mention ensure the Nationals didn't waste another dominant performance by the young ace of a supremely talented pitching staff.

"You get down a couple runs, and I think that starts to creep in: Don't let this be another night where you miss some opportunities," LaRoche said. "You get a guy like that out there -- and we've got a lot of them -- you don't have to score too many runs. It's bailed us out more than once."

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Near trade deadline, former National Drew Storen again on the move

Near trade deadline, former National Drew Storen again on the move

It was back in January that the Nationals acquired Ben Revere from Toronto in exchange for reliever Drew Storen. The former National won't even spend a year north of the border. 

With the trade deadline approaching, Toronto made a move on Tuesday to send Storen and cash considerations to Seattle in exchange for pitcher Joaquin Benoit. 

Storen posted a 6.21 ERA for Toronto in 33.1 innings this season. Benoit has a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings. 

MORE NATIONALS: PAPELBON IMPLODES AGAIN IN LOSS

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Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats fall to Indians in walk-off loss

Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats fall to Indians in walk-off loss

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

How it happened: After Jonathan Papelbon imploded in the ninth inning on Sunday, manager Dusty Baker took some of the blame, saying he should not have pitched his closer for the third straight day. Papelbon denied he was tired, but Baker felt it was worth mentioning.

Despite that, Baker went back to Papelbon on Tuesday night in a key spot. It came after an off-day, but Papelbon did not look himself against the Indians. His fastball was regularly topping out at 89 miles per hour and Cleveland jumped all over it.

Papelbon allowed a leadoff walk then an RBI double to Tyler Naquin. Ryan Zimmerman then committed a costly throwing error to first on a Chris Gimenez sacrifice bunt to score Naquin. And then, with Oliver Perez on the mound and the bases loaded, young superstar Francisco Lindor singled in the winning run for an Indians walk-off victory.

Papelbon has now failed the Nats in the ninth inning of two consecutive games. The one positive may be that he's done this before the Aug. 1 trade deadline and not after it, as the Nats' need for bullpen help is becoming more and more obvious.

The Nats had a solid day on offense, led by Trea Turner in the leadoff spot. He singled, walked, stole a base, reached on an error and scored a run in another all-around effort. The rest of the Nats' lineup followed suit, as Wilson Ramos hit his 15th homer of the season, Anthony Rendon clubbed his 12th and Jayson Werth added two doubles to extend his streak of reaching base to 29 games, matching a career-high. 

The Nats knocked Danny Salazar - one of the AL's best pitchers - out after just four innings of work. He gave up four runs (3 ER) on four hits and two walks. Nats starter Gio Gonzalez overcame a rocky first inning to go 6 1/3 frames with three runs (2 ER) allowed.

The Nationals began their long road trip with a tough, 7-6 loss and have now lost six of their last eight games. 

What it means: The Nats fell to 58-42 on the season. With the Marlins' win on Tuesday, the Nats are now just four games up in the NL East.

Turner mostly good in CF, great at plate: Known for his prodigious speed on the base paths, apparently Trea Turner is also a fast learner.

With Zimmerman back from the disabled list, the Nationals rookie played center field for the first time in a big league game on Tuesday night and the early returns were overall quite good. Turner for the most part looked competent at his new position, despite having one key moment where he showed his inexperience. Perhaps more important, the Nats kept his bat and his legs in their lineup and again saw the impact he can provide at the top of their order.

Turner wasn't tested much in center field on Tuesday night, but he did make one very impressive play in the first inning on a long flyout by Jose Ramirez. Turner covered over 112 feet according to StatCast and caught the ball on a full sprint just a step away from the right-center field wall. It was a difficult play and he made it look easy, registering a 97.8% efficiency score. Turner also made another catch at the warning track in the seventh inning. He displayed good instincts around the wall at a park he's never played before. 

That was the good. There was also some bad, including a mistimed dive attempt in the bottom of the eighth that resulted in a Jason Kipnis double. Turner dove while running in towards the infield, only to have the ball bounce in front of him and then over his head. Kipnis later scored on a double play ball hit by Mike Napoli.

Gio starts slow, rebounds: Tuesday will go down as another step in the right direction for Gonzalez, but it didn't start that way. He ran into major trouble in the first inning by throwing 13 balls in his first 17 pitches. That stretch included a leadoff walk to Rajai Davis and then a ground-rule double by Kipnis. Davis scored after that on a passed ball and Kipnis came home on a Carlos Santana sacrifice fly. Gonzalez barely got out of the first inning and was lucky only two runs came across.

After that, though, he was better. Gonzalez held the Indians scoreless for the next five innings before leaving in the seventh. He finished with three runs allowed (2 ER) on five hits, two walks and four strikeouts. The second earned run charged to Gonzalez came on a tough-luck play. Gonzalez exited after giving up a one-out double to Abraham Almonte. Almonte then scored on a Lonnie Chisenhall groundball hit against Blake Treinen that bounced off Rendon's glove and into center field.

Gonzalez has now allowed eight earned runs in his last four games across 24 innings since July began. That equals an even 3.00 ERA, which is solid considering his struggles through May and June.

Zimmerman returns: Zimmerman came back, but didn't carry over the momentum from his hot-hitting minor league rehab games. Zimmerman went 0-for-4 and left three men on base. That was in addition to his mistake in the field.

Scary moment: There was an unfortunate sequence in the first inning on Tuesday night, as a fan in the crowd at Progressive Field was hit in the face by a Daniel Murphy line drive. The 75-year-old woman was quickly rushed to the hospital, but it sounds like she suffered some serious facial injuries at the very least.

Up next: The Nats and Indians play the finale of their two-game interleague series with a 12:10 p.m. start on Wednesday afternoon. Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83) will square off with right-hander Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 2.31).

[RELATED: Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with Mets]

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Elderly woman hospitalized after being struck by Daniel Murphy foul ball

Elderly woman hospitalized after being struck by Daniel Murphy foul ball

CLEVELAND — A 75-year-old woman was taken to a hospital Tuesday night after being hit in the face with a foul ball by Washington's Daniel Murphy.

Muir West was sitting down the right-field line — and may have been blinded by the sun — when she was struck by the hard shot from Murphy in the first inning of the Indians' game at Progressive Field. Fans sitting in her section immediately called for security and medical personnel, who rushed to aid her.

A family member said West's glasses were broken in the mishap and she received a cut on her face.

Her wound was heavily bandaged before she was placed on a stretcher and taken to MetroHealth Hospital. As she was carried up the steps, fans gave her a warm ovation.

Major League Baseball added more netting this season near home plate to protect fans from foul balls and bats flying into the stands.