Multiple times within the last few weeks, the Nationals have earned a big win, and the topic of conversation has turned to whether that victory could be a momentum-starter, something to give the Nats a jolt and get them on an extended run.
Each time, the Nats have followed that up with a loss, or a string of a few losses.
I’m not going there again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ...
Instead of getting back into whether the Nats will be able to build off their 2-1 win over the Rockies last night and get the train going in the positive direction for an extended stretch, just enjoy the last three days for what they’ve been: three consecutive wins, something the Nats hadn’t gotten since May 8-10.
The Nats continue to say they feel they’re playing better, cleaner ball lately, and if they do, the results might turn over a longer stretch. For now, they’re back to a game over .500, and the deficit in the National League East is down to five games, the lowest it’s been since May 31.
The Nats picked up a game in the division yesterday in part due to the Braves’ loss to the Brewers, but also thanks to some tremendous pitching last night against Colorado. Stephen Strasburg delivered seven stellar innings, earning his fourth win of the season, Drew Storen had maybe his most impressive outing of the season in the eighth inning and Rafael Soriano earned his 19th save of the year.
Strasburg has gotten some terrible run support this season (just 2.50 runs per start, second-worst in the majors), and he didn’t get a whole lot of help from his offense last night. But he got enough.
The right-hander was given two runs, and he made it stand up.
“As a competitor, you want to go out there and win every time,” Strasburg said. “Sometimes, it’s not going to work out that way but the big thing is that you have to go out there and with the same mentality every time out, regardless of what’s happened in the past. That’s pitching to contact, keeping the team in the ballgame.”
As for Strasburg’s heated exchange with pitching coach Steve McCatty in the seventh inning, well, Strasburg just wants to be treated like any other Nats starter. McCatty came out of the dugout with a trainer when he saw Strasburg stretching his side after a two-out double, and an animated Strasburg told his pitching coach to kindly go away.
“I’m not a kid anymore,” Strasburg said. “I think the only reason why (McCatty) came out is because he saw Desi (Ian Desmond) come up and talk to me, but you know, Desi just told me, ‘Hey, let yourself pitch.’ You know, I should be allowed to stretch a little bit out there.
“It is what it is. No big deal. Obviously (McCatty) cares about me and wants everything to be OK, but there was nothing to be worried about.”
Strasburg handed off the reins to Storen in the eighth. While Storen isn’t the Nats’ closer anymore, he still will get his share of tough matchups in the late innings, and he certainly had one last night, having to face the meat of the Rockies order with a one-run lead. Things were made extra interesting when Storen walked Dexter Fowler leading off the inning, then committed a throwing error that moved Fowler to second. He then had to stare down Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer with the game on the line.
“Yeah, that’s the funny thing about pitching late in the game,” Storen said. “You’ve got to face 3-4-5 (in the order), and Clip (Tyler Clippard) used to do that for me, so it’s kind of a fun thing. You get that pressure ... especially when you don’t help yourself out and add to the pressure.”
Yeah, about that error on DJ LeMahiue’s popped up bunt that allowed Fowler to get into scoring position ...
“Just got to get your heart rate down (afterwards), more than anything,” said Storen, who chased the ball into right field after his throw got past Anthony Rendon, who was covering first base. “Got after it a little bit there, but you just get your heart rate down and reset and say, ‘OK, here’s what I need to do.’ The play happened pretty quick, but luckily I got a good little breather to reset my sights.”
Manager Davey Johnson said he loved that Storen didn’t come out trying to blow pitches by Gonzalez, one of the more dangerous power hitters in the league. Instead, Storen went fastball, changeup and slider with his first three pitches to Gonzalez, and then ran a hard 96 mph two-seamer over the inside corner that froze the left-handed hitter. He followed that by getting Cuddyer on three pitches, but the K of Gonzalez was the big out.
“You’ve just got to mix it up and make good pitches,” Storen said. “You’re not really trying to strike him out, you’re just trying to miss the barrel and get some soft contact, if anything. I was able to execute and came up big.
“I was trying to work him in and it ended up coming back over the plate for me and it worked out all right. Wasn’t really trying to throw it as hard as I could ... but maybe I was.”
If the Nats keep getting pitching like that and some slightly improved offense, the wins might continue to come. Big ifs, but certainly possible.