CLEVELAND - Two sure ways to wash away the bitter taste of back-to-back losses via bullpen meltdown: 1) Get a dominant start from one of your aces, and 2) Score enough runs that you don’t need to send your embattled closer back to the mound.
The Nationals did both this afternoon, riding Stephen Strasburg’s seven innings of scoreless ball and clutch hits from Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy to a 4-1 victory over the Indians that salvaged a two-game series split at Progressive Field.
Back to work fewer than 14 hours after Jonathan Papelbon was charged with his second straight loss, the Nationals managed to pull off this win, though not without some drama in the ninth.
They did so thanks in large part to Strasburg’s latest masterpiece. On the heels of his first loss of the season, the right-hander bounced back in a big way, holding a talented Cleveland lineup to three hits and two walks over his seven sparkling innings.
Strasburg struck out seven, including the final two batters he faced in the bottom of the seventh, completing his 110-pitch afternoon on a high note.
Dusty Baker was forced to go to his bullpen to record the final six outs, though with a four-run lead the Nationals manager was able to relax a bit and leave Papelbon (who had pitched four of the previous five days) as an observer for this one. Sammy Solis and Matt Belisle combined to pitch the eighth. Felipe Rivero recorded one out in the ninth but let three batters reach base (one of them scoring). Thus it fell upon Blake Treinen to finish it off in what became an unlikely save situation.
The offense came from one source who has delivered all season (Murphy) and another who has only joined the party recently but has quickly made a case to stick around long-term (Turner).
Murphy went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run (his 20th of the year). The veteran second baseman (who also was retroactively awarded with a hit on a ball Tuesday night that initially was ruled an error) raised his league-leading batting average to .354 and his RBI total to 75 (fourth-best in the NL).
Turner went 3-for-4 with two doubles, three RBIs and a pair of clutch, two-out hits his team desperately needed. The rookie infielder, given a chance to start in center field for the second straight day, reached base in six of his nine plate appearances this series.
Jayson Werth, meanwhile, drew a second-inning walk to extend his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 30, a new career-high.