With scoreless innings from Sean Burnett and Ryan Mattheus, the Nationals’ bullpen preserved the one-hitter until Craig Stammen allowed a double and an infield single in the ninth. The Nationals’ only one-hitter since baseball returned to Washington came in 2008, in a game started by Tim Redding. Things are not what they used to be.
The Nationals became the first major league team to 70 wins, pushing the best record in the majors to 70-43. If they go 24-25 in their remaining schedule, the Nationals will win 94 games. The edges around the playoffs, October baseball in D.C., are growing less fuzzy.
“I think we’ve got our blinders on right now, just playing,” left fielder Michael Morse said. “This is uncharted waters for a lot of guys in here. We like what we’re doing. We want to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re to a point where we’re not going to change a thing. We’re just going to keep pushing. I think we like winning.”
Their offense clicked again to give Strasburg ample support. Ryan Zimmerman crushed a two-run homer in the fifth inning off Arizona starter Trevor Cahill, and for the second straight game Morse blasted a baseball so far it appeared gravity had taken a break.
Steve Lombardozzi set up the scorching middle of the Nationals’ order with a four-hit night, including a triple in the third that preceded Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly. Jayson Werth went 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI. Since Werth returned from a broken wrist, the Nationals are 9-0 in games he has played.
“The middle of our order, even when we don’t get hits, we work the count or we walk,” Zimmerman said. “And really, anytime you can get guys on two-through-seven, you have a chance to do some damage. Even when we’re not getting hits, even when we’re not hitting home runs, things like that, I think it gets the pitchers’ pitch count up, it extends the inning. And when you do that, good things happen.”
Strasburg ensured most of the runs were cosmetic. He pumped his fastball mostly at 96 mph, touching 98 at times. Throwing to catcher Kurt Suzuki for the first time, Strasburg fired 73 heaters out of 104 pitches. Nationals coaches have implored Strasburg to rely on his fastball and sprinkle in other pitches. Friday, he obliged, to great effect.