May 1, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
If the Nationals’ intention Thursday night was to make a statement to the Mets, consider their mission accomplished.
With a lopsided, 8-2 victory at Citi Field, the Nationals took the first game of this big weekend series, won their third straight, moved to within five games of first place in the NL East and thoroughly outplayed New York in every facet.
Whether the trend will continue Friday night and beyond remains to be seen. But on this night, the Nationals appeared to flex some muscles, reminding the Mets who exactly won this division by 17 games last season and who remains the heavy favorite to repeat in 2015.
Thoughts on some of the key points of this impressive win…
Stephen Strasburg made some nice mid-game adjustments
The way his first two innings went, Strasburg didn’t look long for this game. He put the Nationals in an early 2-0 hole, but worse, he needed 52 pitches just to get through those two frames.
At that rate, Strasburg would have been lucky to complete five innings. He wound up reaching the sixth, thanks to a far more aggressive approach from the third inning on.
Strasburg threw only 59.6 percent of his pitches for strikes in those laborious first two innings, constantly falling behind New York hitters. But over his next three innings, he increased that number to 73.8 percent, needing only 42 pitches to record nine outs.
No, he wasn’t perfect. And, yes, you’d have liked to see him at least finish the sixth inning. But Strasburg did show he could make an adjustment after two shaky innings, pounding the strike zone with much better fastball command and not letting the Mets score again once the Nationals took the lead.
The lineup remains red-hot
OK, so the Nationals failed to score 13 runs for the first time in three games. What a colossal failure that makes them.
Not exactly. The Nats were more than productive enough at the plate, scoring eight runs on 12 hits and three walks. Yunel Escobar returned from two days off with an injured left hand to go 3-for-5 and score three runs. Jayson Werth finally got some hard-hit balls to drop and went 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson each recorded a pinch-hit, always a welcome sight.
And Bryce Harper was up to his old tricks yet again. He went 2-for-4 with two doubles, another walk, three RBI, a run scored and a couple of extra bases taken.
Thus concludes a phenomenal April for Harper, who finished the month with a .286 batting average, five homers, 15 RBI, 22 walks, .440 on-base percentage, .545 slugging percentage and .985 OPS. Oh, and he remains 22 years old.
The bullpen was used effectively and locked down the win
The significance of this could get lost in the shuffle because the final score was lopsided, but this remained a close ballgame until the ninth, when Harper’s 3-run double broke things open. The Nationals led only 5-2 from the sixth-through-eighth innings, and that’s when Aaron Barrett and Sammy Solis did some yeoman’s work out of the pen.
First of all, props to Matt Williams for bringing in Barrett to replace Strasburg with two on and one out in the sixth. That normally would be a bit early of an appearance for Barrett, who had entered in the eighth inning or later in 10 of his 11 previous outings this season.
But the game hung in the balance in the bottom of the sixth, with the Mets bringing the tying run to the plate. That was the high-leverage situation, and Williams brought in one of his most-effective relievers to get out of the jam. Which Barrett did, striking out Eric Campbell and getting Wilmer Flores to hit a line drive right at Werth in left field. Barrett threw 7-of-8 pitches for strikes, a standout performance in a big spot.
Solis, meanwhile, earned Williams’ trust not only to pitch the seventh inning of a 3-run game but to come back and pitch the eighth as well. The 26-year-old lefty, the fifth rookie pitcher to make his MLB debut for the Nationals in 16 days, also pounded the strike zone (16-of-22 pitches). And he was plenty effective, retiring 6-of-7 batters faced.
Not to be overlooked, Drew Storen retired the side in the ninth, striking out a pair. Harper’s earlier double had removed the save situation from the game, but Storen nonetheless pitched how you’d want him to when protecting a 1-run lead.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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