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Strasburg winning while he learns

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Strasburg winning while he learns

MIAMI -- It's easy to watch Stephen Strasburg mow through opposing lineups and forget how young and inexperienced he still is.

Sunday's start in Miami was only the 35th of Strasburg's big-league career, the equivalent of one full season. He's been through so much and has so much talent, you tend to think he's as polished as they get.

But there is still much for Strasburg to learn, another level for him to reach.

"What is he, 23 years old?," Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "He's got six weeks in the minor leagues. This is an awful tough level to learn at. He's got tremendous ability, and he's still putting up some pretty good numbers. But he's going to have his moments and his games where we might see things that he doesn't necessarily see. That's why I always say it's a learning process. He's got to see it himself."

During the course of Sunday's 4-0 victory over the Marlins, McCatty and Nationals manager Davey Johnson believe they saw Strasburg take a step forward, learning a key lesson they've been pounding in his head for months: Don't be afraid to trust your fastball above all other pitches.

Strasburg, who possesses perhaps the most devastating offspeed pitches of his generation, also is blessed with a fastball that approaches triple digits. And when he uses it and locates it the way he did Sunday while tossing six scoreless innings, the end result leaves everybody pleased.

"I have to say, that was one of the more impressive games that Stras has pitched," Johnson said. "I thought he used his fastball better. I thought his location was a little better. He spiked a few changeups. He got in some jams that he had to work out of. That's the kind of Strasburg that I know and love."

Right down to the part where the young hurler drove in another key run at the plate.

Perhaps Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was too busy trying to mess with Bryce Harper's head to remember that Strasburg has developed into the best-hitting pitcher in the majors. Whatever the reason, Guillen inexplicably decided to intentionally walk rookie backup catcher Jhonatan Solano with two outs in the fifth, bringing Strasburg to the plate with a man in scoring position.

And as has been case on several previous occasions, Strasburg delivered, sending a sharp single to right field to bring home the Nationals' first run of the day. He's now hitting .385 (10-for-26) with a .448 on-base percentage and .654 slugging percentage.

"I mean, there's no expectations, so that's the easy part," said Strasburg, who also drew a walk in his first plate appearance. "You just have to go up there and make him work, and if he makes a mistake, just do your best to put the fat part of the bat on the ball."

The Marlins didn't put the fat part of the bat on Strasburg's pitches very often during this game. Though they compiled six hits off the right-hander, all but one were singles, and few were well-struck.

He did face several jams because of it, but he rose to the occasion each time to keep the runner from scoring. He struck out John Buck with two on in the second. He struck out Logan Morrison with the bases loaded and one out in the third, then got some help from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche on Hanley Ramirez's sharp grounder to third moments later. And he struck out Ramirez with runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth, ultimately keeping Miami to one hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"I went into the game and I wanted to really get back to the things that make me successful," he said. "We played great defense today and they got a couple hits, but I was able to make pitches when they counted."

The key for Strasburg was a return to his roots, his fastball, which he threw 70 times on Sunday as opposed to only 18 changeups and 17 curveballs.

"The thing about Stephen is, his offspeed is so good that it's easy to fall back on that," McCatty said. "But his fastball still is an outstanding pitch, so we just talked about it. We've been talking about it and talking about it and talking about it. Get back to using it."

By day's end, Strasburg had lowered his ERA to 2.66 while improving his record to 10-4. In 35 career starts, he's now 16-8 with a 2.60 ERA and 251 strikeouts to only 49 walks in 197 innings.

He's now an All-Star, the ace of the best pitching staff in baseball. Yet the Nationals don't believe he's realized his full potential yet.

"He's still learning at this level," McCatty said. "He's got a long way to go. It's not a finished product by any means. But it's still an awful good one."

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Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

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The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.

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The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

Gio Gonzalez had some worrisome moments on the mound Tuesday night, including when a friend sitting in the first row behind the Washington Nationals' dugout was hit in the head by a flying bat.

"Next time in the front row everyone will be wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.

The friend later said he was fine, and Gonzalez felt good too after pitching seven innings to beat the Miami Marlins 12-3.

Gonzalez (7-1) allowed three runs, including two on Marcell Ozuna's 19th homer , but struck out eight and won his fourth consecutive decision.

"Exactly what we needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "Gio's throwing the ball great."

He had plenty of support even before a five-run ninth. Bryce Harper started the scoring with a two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Daniel Murphy had two RBIs and hit his 12th homer . Stephen Drew had three hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs with a double and a single.

Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, improved to 7-3 in 13 starts against his hometown team with an ERA of 2.19. He had a cluster of friends and relatives in attendance, and that's where Justin Bour's bat went when it slipped from his hands on a swing in the fifth inning.

"It's good to have friends here, but put them somewhere safe," Gonzalez said.

He said his pal who was hit received a souvenir later as compensation for being clubbed.

"Bour gave him a bat, which is pretty cool on his part, because we want the fans to come back," Gonzalez said.

The left-hander said it was too early to talk about the possibility of pitching in the All-Star game, which will be played in his hometown next month. His teammates are rooting for it.

"Gio has been great," Harper said. "I'm hoping he pitches like this the rest of the first half and gets the start here. It would be incredible to see."

The NL East leaders went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but it was still 0-0 when Edinson Volquez (3-8) walked Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner in the third inning, and they advanced on a double steal.

With two outs, Harper tried to bunt on the first pitch -- a curious move by the slugger -- and pushed it foul. He golfed the next pitch into center for the Nationals' first hit to put them up 2-0.

"I don't hit Volquez very well," Harper said. "If I can lay a bunt down with a guy at third and get a knock and score a run ... but it worked out."

Pitching to Harper backfired for Miami, so the next time he came to bat, when the Nationals again had a runner in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly opted for an intentional walk. Zimmerman foiled the strategy with a two-run double.

"They've got a good lineup," Mattingly said. "They put you in a box in a number of ways."

Volquez allowed a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

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