Strasburg delivers four shutout innings while Harper’s bat struggles

LAKELAND, Fla. - Stephen Strasburg appeared to be in midseason form throughout today’s start. The Tigers only managed three hits while Strasburg struck out five in four scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 6-4 victory. Detroit’s lineup saw the full repertoire from the big righty.

“Two-seamer was working pretty well, changeup got better as the game went on and curveball, I was able to throw it for a strike today,” Strasburg said. “Everything was working pretty well.”

Strasburg threw 44 of his 61 pitches for strikes in his highest pitch output of the spring.

“I thought he threw really well,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “He got his pitch count right where we wanted to get it to. He finished the last inning. I thought he was really good.”

strasburg-midthrow-red-sidebar.jpgWhat was billed as the game’s marquee pitching matchup around spring training was totally one-sided, as the Nats did some early damage against Tigers starter Justin Verlander.

Shortstop Ian Desmond got it all started with a triple in the first. Two batters later, catcher Wilson Ramos singled up the middle to put Verlander in a quick 1-0 hole.

In the third, Verlander was ahead 0-2 against Tony Gwynn Jr. before the Nationals center fielder deposited the third pitch over the right field wall for his first home run of the spring.

“At that point, I’m just trying to put the bat on the ball,” Gwynn said. “He left a slider that was a little flat and I was able to get my barrel to it and usually when you get a slider to the barrel, good things happen.”

Gwynn didn’t let a late arrival to camp hold him back. The eight-year veteran is hitting .417 (10-for-24) in 11 exhibition games as he competes to make the team as a backup outfielder. Without a team this offseason, Gwynn stuck to a plan as he waited for a phone call.

“One thing I tried to do was stay in shape and keep my swing going,” he said. “Whether it was going right or going wrong, I wanted to keep swinging by the time I got here so there was a chance that I could come in here and not miss a beat. I was familiar with the staff before I got here, so it kind of worked out pretty good.”

Bryce Harper’s quiet spring at the plate continued as the right fielder went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts to lower his batting average to .176.

HarperDugoutDejected.jpg“He’s a little jumpy right now,” Williams said. “I think he’s getting out there a little bit too much. As he gets to 40 at-bats or so, he really calms down. We’ve seen that in the past, so we’ll just continue to give him at-bats and he’ll be fine.”

Williams has yet to name his opening day starting pitcher with less than three weeks remaining. The reigning National League Manager of the Year is reluctant to announce the call this far out for fear of a potential injury causing a shake-up in the rotation. That said, he recognizes why he’ll likely continue to field daily questions about which stud pitcher he plans to give the ball to start the season against the Mets.

“It’s prestigious for whoever the guy is,” Williams acknowledged. “That being said, whoever gets that nod will be excited about it, but I also look at it like every one of our guys has the ability to go out and beat the other team. To put numbers on it is not fair to anyone.”

Strasburg has accepted the honor three times in his career, the most for any Nationals pitcher in the franchise’s 10 years.

“I think it’s something that you can tell your kids about someday,” Strasburg said. “I’ve only known opening day in a Nationals uniform. My first one being in Wrigley (Field) was special and the second one being at home was great as well. I think there’s something to that atmosphere and everything, but at the same time you’re not just preparing for the first game. You’re preparing for the games that matter, especially in the end.”

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