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Inconsistent night for Strasburg

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Inconsistent night for Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg wasn't thinking about the after-effects of Tommy John surgery as he slogged his way through a ragged, four-inning start Tuesday night in an 8-0 loss to the Phillies. He paid no attention to his right elbow as he served up a two-run homer to the little-known Kevin Frandsen in the top of the second, nor did it cross his mind as he watched Jimmy Rollins sprint around the bases for an inside-the-park home run in the top of the fourth.

And after matching his career high with six earned runs allowed during the third-shortest start of his 38 big-league appearances, Strasburg wasn't going to accept any links to the ligament replacement procedure he underwent in Sept. 2010.

"I'm not blaming it on having Tommy John," he said. "It happens to everybody. I'm just going to forget about it and make the adjustments. It has nothing to do with coming off Tommy John. That's over two years now."

Maybe so. Maybe this was just an off-night for the young Nationals ace. Off-nights, though, are nothing out of the ordinary for pitchers coming back from that major arm surgery, even two years after the fact. Actually, they're quite common.

Pitchers who have returned from Tommy John often talk about the inconsistency they experience during their first full season back on the mound. Pinpoint control may be there one night, then completely disappear five nights later.

This is especially true during the latter stages of that first season back, when the physical toll starts to catch up with pitchers who haven't thrown this many innings since suffering the injury.

Strasburg needs only look a couple of lockers down from his at Jordan Zimmermann, who experienced this very same phenomenon one year ago. After missing most of 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann burst out of the gates early in 2011, posting a 2.66 ERA prior to the All-Star break. Then his command started to betray him and that ERA rose to 4.14 after the All-Star break.

Strasburg made only his fourth start since the break Tuesday night, and he's still got another six or seven to go before the Nationals shut him down for precautionary reasons (just as they did with Zimmermann last fall). But the trend is holding true so far. After posting a 2.82 ERA during the season's first half, Strasburg has seen that number rise to 4.43 since the Midsummer Classic.

"It's just a long grind, and you can't be totally dominant every time you go out there," manager Davey Johnson said. "He expects it of himself, and when he makes a bad pitch and a guy hits it out of the ballpark, it makes him try harder. It's part of learning."

Indeed, there is a mental side to this whole process, and it's one Strasburg still battles on a regular basis. He struggles at times to overcome adversity and lets one bad development snowball into something worse.

Witness a couple of key moments during Tuesday's game:

-- Shortly after serving up the second-inning homer to Frandsen (who last cleared the fences in a big-league ballpark in 2007), Strasburg let Juan Pierre steal both second and third bases and ultimately score when catcher Jesus Flores' throw sailed into left field.

-- In the fourth inning, Strasburg gave up a two-out single to Cliff Lee, then paid no attention to the opposing hurler and let him steal second base. Strasburg's very next pitch was tattooed by Rollins off the right-field fence, turning into an inside-the-park home run.

"He's been always an emotional guy," Flores said. "After the Frandsen homer, he kind of started forcing himself to make perfect pitches, but it seemed like it didn't work out."

The stolen bases -- all of them more a product of Strasburg's inability to hold the runner on than Flores' inability to throw them out -- were particularly troublesome. Not that Strasburg is alone on the Nationals' pitching staff in this regard.

Opponents have now been successful on 34 of their last 35 stolen-base attempts against the Nationals, with managers more and more giving their guys the green light to take advantage of this glaring weakness.

"That's one of the things that we haven't done well the whole season," said Flores, who overall has thrown out only four of 45 basestealers.

"Obviously I'm pretty upset with myself for letting guys steal on me," said Strasburg, who has let 12-of-14 runners steal off him this year. "It's something where things aren't going right, you still have to remember when there's guys on base. You've got to keep them close."

Nothing about Tuesday night's game was close from the Nationals' perspective. Entering this homestand on a high note following a 6-1 road trip that saw them enter the day owning baseball's best record -- the Cincinnati Reds now hold that title -- they put up little fight against a Phillies club that waved the symbolic white flag earlier in the afternoon by trading away outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.

"Once you do that and there's not expectations on them, then they're free-wheeling it," Johnson said. "Got a pretty good pitcher going against us who has been down that road. Seasoned. Doesn't make many mistakes. Pitched out of a couple jams. Made good pitches. Happens."

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Gio Gonzalez leads Nats to 6th straight win with 3-1 victory against Mets

Gio Gonzalez leads Nats to 6th straight win with 3-1 victory against Mets

NEW YORK -- Gio Gonzalez pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning to win again at Citi Field and the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets 3-1 on a drizzly Saturday for their sixth straight victory.

Gonzalez (2-0) gave up two singles in 6 1/3 innings. The lefty improved to 9-1 lifetime on the Mets' home field.

Still missing injured slugger Yoenis Cespedes and other starters, New York has lost seven of eight.

Koda Glover, the fourth Washington pitcher, completed the combined two-hitter by getting the last out for his first big league save.

Jacob deGrom (0-1) struck out 10 and walked six in 5 2/3 innings -- he matched a career high by fanning 13 in his last start. He was supposed to pitch Friday night, but was scratched with a stiff neck after sleeping on it wrong. Mets pitchers fanned 15 in all.

Trea Turner returned to the Nationals' starting lineup from a strained right hamstring and hit an RBI double. A day after being activated from the disabled list, he hustled home on Ryan Zimmerman's single for a 3-0 lead in the fifth. Turner got two hits and reached on an error.

Gonzalez struck out six and walked three in the 10th straight quality start by Washington pitchers. He worked around a pair of walks in the first, then retired 13 batters in a row until walking pinch hitter Jose Reyes to begin the sixth.

Juan Lagares followed with a sharp single up the middle for the Mets' first hit. It was his 15th career hit off Gonzalez, more than anyone's gotten against the lefty.

Asdrubal Cabrera made it 3-1 with an RBI single, but Gonzalez escaped further trouble by striking out Jay Bruce and Neil Walker.

Matt Wieters put Washington ahead with a single in the fourth that scored Bryce Harper. Daniel Murphy also tried to scoot home, but the throw beat him by a lot and he did a brief tango on the dirt around the plate before catcher Rene Rivera tagged him.

Murphy singled twice and ended his 0-for-14 skid. Harper, who began the day with a major league-leading .407 average, walked three times and struck out twice.

Both teams made nifty catches.

Left fielder Adam Eaton rushed in for a sliding grab on Rivera's liner in the fifth. The next inning, Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson angled into the alley for a diving, backhand stab on Michael Taylor's drive.

More Nationals: DOES MIKE RIZZO SEE THE NATS HAVING A CLOSER BY COMMITTEE?​

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Nationals win fifth in a row as Harper powers Nats past Mets

Nationals win fifth in a row as Harper powers Nats past Mets

NEW YORK -- Bryce Harper got off to a loud start, tagging a longtime nemesis. Way later, he enjoyed another trot home.

Harper homered early, then doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning on a bases-loaded walk by Jeurys Familia, sending the Washington Nationals over the ailing New York Mets 4-3 Friday night for their fifth straight win.

"I think every game against them means a lot," Harper said.

This was the first of 19 meetings this season between the teams that have traded the NL East title the last three years.

"That would've been a big win for them," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It didn't take you long to see they were banged up and in trouble.

On a foggy night, Familia again had trouble finding the strike zone. He forced home a run with a walk to Trea Turner as the Mets lost for the sixth time in seven games. New York fell to 1-3 in extra innings early this season.

Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Travis d'Arnaud didn't start for the Mets because of injuries, on the same day they put first baseman Lucas Duda and infielder Wilmer Flores on the disabled list.

Plus, Matt Harvey wound up pitching when scheduled starter Jacob deGrom was scratched with a stiff neck. The Mets employed pitcher Zack Wheeler to pinch hit -- he doubled -- and another starter, Robert Gsellman, to pinch run.

"You've got to play with what you have, and I think we're doing the best we can right now," Harvey said.

Harper hit his seventh homer, lining a two-run drive in the first. He was 1 for 26 in his career against Harvey before connecting.

Did Harper think the law of averages was on his side?

"Never know," he said. "Might get dominated your whole life by one guy."

Harper is doing the dominating now. Bouncing back from a down year, the 2015 NL MVP is 12 for 19 (.632) with five home runs, four doubles and 12 RBIs in his last five games.

Harper used his legs to set up the tiebreaking tally.

The Nationals, the top-hitting team in the major leagues, hadn't gotten a hit since Jose Lobaton's leadoff homer in the fifth when Harper sliced a one-out double in the 11th.

After Daniel Murphy was intentionally walked by Josh Smoker (0-1), Familia relieved. On Thursday night, Familia -- who led the majors with 51 saves last year -- made his season debut after a 15-game domestic violence suspension and labored through 30 pitches, walking two.

This time, he bounced a wild pitch to Anthony Rendon and Harper hustled into third, the safe call standing up on replay. Rendon wound up walking on a full-count pitch and Turner, activated from the disabled list before the game, walked on four pitches.

"This isn't a perfect world where you can pick the perfect spot," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He just didn't throw the ball over the plate, which is very uncharacteristic for him."

Enny Romero (1-0) got the win, and Shawn Kelley earned his third save.

Mets leadoff man Michael Conforto homered on Tanner Roark's first pitch of the game. Slumping Curtis Granderson hit an RBI single in the fourth and lined his first homer of the season in the sixth, tying it at 3.

Injured outfielder Jayson Werth sat out for Washington, catcher Matt Wieters got a day off and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman entered in the ninth. Murphy was back in the lineup after missing a game with tightness in his right leg.

Harvey pitched four-hit ball for seven innings. He hit Wilmer Difo, the second batter of the game, in the helmet with a 94 mph fastball. Difo stayed in, and Harper followed with his home run.