Davey Johnson probably couldn’t have drawn up a more perfect game if he tried.
Johnson and the Nationals got two home runs from Bryce Harper, seven exceptional innings from starter Stephen Strasburg, a couple tremendous defensive plays, a strong eighth inning from Tyler Clippard and a perfect 1-2-3 ninth from Rafael Soriano.
Add it all up, and it’s a 2-0 Nats win.
There was plenty for Johnson to like about today’s effort, but Strasburg and Harper were paramount in his mind.
“Oh, Stras was amazing,” Johnson said. “He basically threw a lot of fastballs and threw a few curveballs and a few changeups. Basically, he was locating his fastball real good. He just pitched a great game. Well-pitched game. Any other day other than opening day I probably would’ve gone farther with him. But with the adrenaline going on opening day, I knew he was going to be a little spent. But outstanding.
“And what can you say about Harp? I guess he likes the three-hole.”
It might have surprised many to see Strasburg not trot out of the first base dugout to start the top of the eighth inning. After all, Strasburg had thrown only 80 pitches and faced just two hitters over the minimum through seven stellar frames. Instead, Tyler Clippard bolted out of the bullpen to work the eighth, and Strasburg’s day was done.
“Opening day, it drains you,” Johnson explained, when asked about his decision to hook Strasburg after seven. “It’s a long spring, coming out there, opening day crowd, all the ceremonies, all the people. Originally, I was going to go 90-100 pitches (with Strasburg), and he gave me seven strong innings. ... I’m not pushing the envelope. I never have, never will.”
Why Clippard in the eighth and not Drew Storen?
“I had a lot of good choices,” Johnson said. “But that part of the lineup, I took the guy that had the best success against their number one pinch-hitter, (Greg) Dobbs. And that was Clip. Simple as that.”
Dobbs was just 1-for-8 with three strikeouts off Clippard entering today, while he was 3-for-5 off Storen.
Clippard walked Donovan Solano on five pitches to lead off the eighth, but retired the next three, including Dobbs to end the inning. Rafael Soriano then came on for the ninth and retired the side in order, including strikeouts of Chris Coghlan and Giancarlo Stanton to end the game.
Soriano only appeared in seven Grapefruit League games this spring and posted an 8.10 ERA. That didn’t seem to matter today.
“Obviously, spring training’s overrated,” Johnson quipped. “But he certainly turned it up a notch. Made nothing but quality pitches. Did outstanding. ...
“He knew what he needed to get ready in the spring, and even (pitching coach Steve) McCatty wished he’d had a couple more outings, but it was just what he needed. I think he felt his arm was in shape, but nothing beats the adrenaline rush with a couple-run lead and going after guys. And he made it look easy.”
Back to Harper, Johnson knows the type of talent that the 20-year-old possesses. But even he’s impressed with the way Harper has been swinging the bat over the last couple weeks, dating back to the end of the Grapefruit League season.
“He had a phenomenal spring. Best spring maybe I’ve seen anyone ever have. And continuing on,” Johnson said. “He’s just a great stroke and a great approach and he’s a smart hitter. I’m sure he looked at the films and had a pretty good idea how (Nolasco) likes to set up his fastball and how he likes to pitch. He was talking about pitchers last year, veteran pitchers, about what they do in situations with men on base, what they start hitters off with. So he’s not just a good talent, he pays attention. ...
“If you’ve watched them pitch to him in the spring, they didn’t know what to throw him. He was hitting about everything. I think he hit a curveball and a slider today off the ballpark.”
Ryan Zimmerman made a heck of a defensive play in the first inning, diving to his left to grab a Placido Polanco grounder and then gunning Polanco at first to save a run. Harper then made a nice defensive play of his own in the seventh, firing home after catching a Rob Brantly line drive to start a 7-2-3-4-2 double play that ended the inning and the Marlins threat.
“That was great,” Johnson said. “The runner was hung up (between first and second). We checked the runner at third, threw down there, and Espi (Danny Espinosa) made a great throw to the plate. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done. That was textbook.”
Harper’s throw might not have been textbook, as he missed the cutoff man, which could have allowed Polanco to get into scoring position had he not stopped midway to second base. But the play worked out just fine.
The only thing that Johnson didn’t really like today was the force with which Harper gave him a high-five after his first home run. A fired-up Harper wound up and smacked his manager’s hand good, but he eased off a bit after his next bomb.
“I’m glad he cut it down on the second one,” Johnson said. “It was still stinging from the first one. I think a lot of people were.”