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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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Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Bryce Harper singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip.

Nine players batted for Washington in the opening inning. Goodwin started it with a booming shot high above the home run line across the batter's eye in straightaway center.

Difo and Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Daniel Murphy walked and Anthony Rendon singled in a run. Jose Lobaton capped the scoring with a two-out RBI single before Strasburg bounced into a fielder's choice to end Ray's 39-pitch inning.

Arizona broke through with two runs in the fifth.

Chris Iannetta had a pinch-hit single with one out and David Descalso walked before Ketel Marte and David Peralta each singled in a run. With runners at first and third and one out, Blanton came on to strike out Paul Goldschmidt and got Chris Owings to ground into a fielder's choice.

The Diamondbacks had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth but Enny Romero struck out A.J. Pollock and Descalso bounced out to second. Romero left the game in the seventh with an apparent injury.

Arizona, 3-6 since the All-Star break, stranded 11 runners.

Washington's Andrew Stevenson, called up from Triple-A Syracuse, was 0 for 2 in his major league debut.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Washington placed OF Chris Heisey on the 10-day DL. Heisey strained his left groin in Saturday night's 4-3 victory. Additionally, OF Ryan Raburn was placed on the bereavement list.

Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez appeared in his first game in Arizona as a Diamondback after missing three games with a bruised wrist, the result of being hit by a pitch in his Diamondbacks debut. He walked as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Washington has Monday off and hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday. RH Edwin Jackson makes his second start for the Nationals.

Diamondbacks: Arizona begins a three-game home series against Atlanta on Monday night. Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.93 ERA), 9-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 home starts, goes for the Diamondbacks. R.A. Dickey (6-6, 4.14) counters for the Braves.

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- The newest additions to the Washington bullpen came through when called upon to help deliver a victory to their new team.

Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run by escaping a jam for his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning as the Nationals held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 on Saturday night.

"The game can really speed up on you once you start getting guys on base," said Doolittle, who with Madson arrived in a trade with Oakland earlier in the week. "The crowd and the energy of the stadium can kind of take over and ... you have to be mindful enough to step off the mound, slow the game down a bit, kind of press reset."

Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings for the NL East-leading Nationals.

"Curveball felt good. Just keep the hitter guessing," Roark said.

Harper hit his 25th home run on a full-count offspeed pitch from Anthony Banda (0-1), who lost in his major league debut.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom half, but the Nationals opened a 4-1 lead with a three-run sixth.

Harper hit a run-scoring double and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double, and Anthony Rendon beat out an RBI single that sent Zimmerman home.

"They had a young guy out there that throws the ball really hard, has good command. He's going to be really good in the next couple of years for sure," Harper said of Banda. "Just got him this time and got a few runs up there."

A.J. Pollock tripled in the bottom half and scored on Jake Lamb's groundout, and Arizona reliever Jorge De La Rosa got out of bases-loaded trouble in the seventh when he struck out Harper and Zimmerman.

Doolittle, acquired from Oakland last weekend, walked Lamb leading off the ninth. Iannetta hit a broken-bat grounder to third, and Rendon's throw to second went into right field for an error that put runners on the corners.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a sacrifice fly, Chris Owings flied out and Doolittle struck out Ketel Marte for his second save with the Nationals.

"Madson's been great for us. Doolittle ... he never panics. It was great to see. It's a lot of fun to have a back end like that," Harper said.

Banda allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked none. He was optioned back to Triple-A Reno after the game.

"I felt confident. I threw the ball in the zone and kept attacking hitters," Banda said. "I made a couple of mistakes, Harper and the middle of the lineup."