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Stephen Strasburg wins again and Trea Turner hits for cycle as Nats rout Rockies

Trea Turner watches his first-inning home run during Tuesday’s 11-1 win over the Rockies. Turner hit for the cycle for the second time as a National — just the fourth since the franchise came to Washington. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Before ducking into the dugout, and out of sight until his next turn, Stephen Strasburg met Yan Gomes by the top step and shook his hand. The game would turn into a rout later on, once the Washington Nationals rallied for an eight-run seventh, and once Trea Turner punctuated it by hitting for the cycle for the second time in his career. But first Strasburg wanted a quiet moment at Nationals Park to conference with his catcher and share a quick embrace.

That’s usually a manager’s job. A handshake indicates the end of an outing — a way to say thank you and good job — but Strasburg didn’t need Dave Martinez to tell him that Tuesday night. He had just finished six scoreless innings at 107 pitches, holding a slim lead, and the Nationals used that effort to run past the Colorado Rockies in an 11-1 win. That gave the Nationals their 21st victory in 28 contests, and moved them to within 5 ½ games of the Atlanta Braves in the division race.

They had 17 hits across eight innings, tying a season high, and Turner used four of them — a homer in the first, single in the second, triple in the fifth and double in the seventh — to make history. He became the first National, from 2005 to present, to hit for the cycle twice. Both have come against the Rockies. He joined Cristian Guzman and Brad Wilkerson, who also did so with the Montreal Expos, as Washington players to accomplish the feat. The offensive outburst helped Strasburg earn a win in his sixth straight start.

Box score: Nationals 11, Rockies 1

“It’s a hard game, and to get four hits in one game is hard to do,” Turner said. “To have four different ones is, I think, a little bit of luck.”

In Strasburg’s last outing, a 13-4 win over the Atlanta Braves, he may have found a bit of luck, too. He went 3-for-3 at the plate with two singles, a home run and a career-high five RBI. Following the homer, a screaming shot to left, he danced in the Nationals’ dugout, wagging his arms, wobbling from one to the other with a shy grin on his face. He even laughed about it all after the game.

But Tuesday was a reminder, if one was needed, of how reliable he is on the mound. The smiles were gone. So were the jokes. Strasburg did single in the second inning — giving him a hit in four consecutive at-bats — yet had the nerve to ground out his next time up. He otherwise struck out eight, kept the Rockies off the scoreboard, and used 28 four-seam fastballs, 23 sinkers, 29 curveballs and 27 change-ups to do so.

“As you get older and stuff, you might be a tick down on your velocity, so you have to pitch a bit more,” Strasburg said of why he distributed his pitches so evenly. “Especially when guys are trying to get to your fastball early in the count because they don’t want to see the other stuff later.”

Strasburg, by night’s end, led the league with 13 wins against four losses. The Nationals gave him a two-run lead in the first, and he dropped his season ERA to 3.37 with just three earned runs over his past 24 ⅔ innings.

Then they tacked on eight runs in the seventh when Gerardo Parra brought in three on a pinch-hit single, with the help of a throwing error, and Turner completed the cycle by punching a double through the right-center gap.

“I didn’t screw it up this time,” Turner said of what he thought while pulling into second, since he had a chance to hit for the cycle in Chicago earlier this season.

Turner then acknowledged it as a fluky achievement, requiring all the right bounces, even if only 26th players have done it twice in a career. Pitching wins are often viewed the same way, and, as an archaic statistic, reflected in contracts and end-of-year award voting. Jacob deGrom won last year’s NL Cy Young Award with 10 victories. His 1.70 ERA, and dominant sabermetrics, made him a lock despite Max Scherzer’s 18-7 record. It was another step in reimagining player evaluation, and redefining success.

Yet that doesn’t mean Strasburg’s wins should be ignored. Consider that he’s never finished with more than 15, in nine major league seasons, and is now two away from that number in late July. Consider that he has made every start to this point, at 31 years old, with his durability being questioned more than ever, and gone six-plus innings in all but four of them.

Then consider, just for a moment, where this team would be without him. The Nationals’ big four has had one true constant this season. Scherzer is still recovering from inflammation in the bursa under his right shoulder blade. Patrick Corbin was lit up in three consecutive outings between May and June. Aníbal Sánchez was rough early, beginning the year with a 5.10 ERA in nine starts, only clicking after a trip to the injured list.

And Strasburg has barely stumbled, save a few rocky starts, showing what it looks like, in human form, to always have a chance to win.

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