Overshadowed by Strasburg, Nationals turn in gem against Phillies

PHILADELPHIA | If the Nationals’ 8-1 win over the Phillies on Saturday night wasn’t their best game of the year, it was certainly close. They scored three runs in the first inning off Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick, first silencing the boos and taunts from the Citizens Bank Park sellout crowd and then turning them on the Phillies’ erratic pitcher.

Ian Desmond had four hits, scored two runs and made enough superb defensive plays at shortstop to atone for a few of his 28 errors this year. The Nationals’ bullpen pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, extending its streak to 11 2/3 scoreless. Roger Bernadina leapt at the wall and took away a double - or possibly a homer - from Ryan Howard, and hit a three-run homer of his own. Even Nyjer Morgan, who doesn’t have a homer this year, nearly took one out in the second inning, settling instead for a triple and his fair share of clubhouse grief for prematurely starting a home run trot.

And most of the headlines won’t show it.

The attention here on Saturday was on Stephen Strasburg, who left in the fifth inning with a strained flexor tendon in his forearm. But behind all that, the Nationals stomped the Phillies in rather convincing fashion.

Lou Holder and Ray Knight talk with Jim Riggleman after the Nats’ 8-1 win

“We played good,” manager JIm Riggleman said. “A lot of good things happened out there tonight.”

It was the second time in three weeks that the Nationals have beaten Philadelphia by an 8-1 score. But it was just their third win in the last 15 games they’ve played at Citizens Bank Park.

“The crowd was into the game, but we kind of took them out early, with scoring some runs and their pitcher not throwing as many strikes as he normally does,” said reliever Craig Stammen, who came in for Strasburg. “They tried to get back going a little bit, but we stopped it.”

Stammen, who pitched an inning in relief of Strasburg, said he was one of the only people in the bullpen to see Strasburg shaking his arm after the fifth-inning changeup he threw to Domonic Brown. He started to get loose as soon as he could, but was stuck doing most of his warmup on the mound.

“It took me back to high school days. That’s how we used to warm up before games - we’d throw on the game mound while the other team was taking infield,” said Stammen, who moved to the bullpen two weeks ago. “It was kind of awkward, because everybody’s waiting for the game to start, and you’re just trying to get loose.”

But he kept the Phillies from rallying. So did Doug Slaten, who followed with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Tyler Clippard and Miguel Batista finished things.

And on a night when Strasburg’s health put the Nationals on edge, they at least left the park with something to feel good about.

“We’re trying to find some positives,” Riggleman said. “Our record is what it is. But we’re trying to find some positives in that we’ve played Philadelphia and Atlanta, two really good ballclubs, we’ve played them pretty tough.”