It seems fitting that on Memorial Day weekend, the Washington Nationals had their own version of a memorial day.
As in: Remember when things mostly went how they were supposed to go? And when they didn't, they still worked out?
That was the case Sunday as the Nationals whipped the Phillies 6-1 behind another dominant start from Stephen Strasburg, a couple of timely hits and a couple of breaks. When the Phillies made mistakes, the Nationals took full advantage.
"The last two starts, that's the best we've seen him since he's been here," shortstop Ian Desmond said of Strasburg, who struck out nine in eight innings.
The news, however, even in victory, wasn't all good.
Ross Detwiler, who left his previous start 11 days ago with a slight oblique strain, was due to start again Tuesday. But the left-hander had a setback Sunday and is headed to the disabled list.
Another lefty, Xavier Cedeno, has been recalled. No word yet on who will make that Tuesday start.
Also, outfielder Bryce Harper's banged-up knee had him moving gingerly, and he came out of the game in favor of pinch-runner Roger Bernadina in the seventh. Manager Davey Johnson said he wants Harper to stop sliding head-first and that Harper would probably sit a couple of days. Harper said he doesn't think sliding feet-first will make a difference and he doesn't plan to sit. OK, then. Stay tuned.
But on the field, all was well. Strasburg was in command and the Nats seemed to make good on every mistake the Phillies made. It could have been a Throwback Day if they had worn their uniforms from last season, when games like this became the norm.
"Things are starting to unfold," Desmond said. "We're playing better defense, we're pitching better, the bats are starting to come around. We're getting those lucky drops every once in a while. That's what we need. You have to play good, crisp baseball to put pressure on other teams. When you do that, things like that happen."
Washington broke open a scoreless game with a five-run seventh that had a little bit of everything. Ryan Zimmerman opened it by legging out an infield hit, emphatically clapping his hands as he crossed the base safe. Adam LaRoche followed with a sharp single. Desmond sacrificed them up a base.
After Tyler Moore walked to load the bases, backup catcher Jhonatan Solano hit a dribbler close to the mound. Third baseman Michael Young's throw got away from catcher Humberto Quintero. Two runs scored.
Steve Lombardozzi then doubled in two more.
"A couple of weeks ago, they probably would have turned a double play on that swinging bunt by Solano, somehow, some way," Desmond said.
But not Sunday, and the way Strasburg was throwing five runs were plenty. His only run allowed came on a balk in the eighth inning. After pitching counterpart Cole Hamels singled in the third, Strasburg retired the next 10. Twice he stuck out the Phils' 4-5-6 hitters in the same inning.
Though his record is still an un-Strasburg-like 3-5, his form lately has been much more like the guy who made the 2012 All-Star team. His earned run average is down to 2.49, second only to Jordan Zimmermann among Nats' starters. He's up to 71 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings.
"My fastball command has gotten better as the season has gone on and I've gotten more comfortable out of the stretch," Strasburg said. "It's all about making adjustments. Sometimes you're not going to start the year where you want to be. It's all about how you end the season."
Harper, meanwhile, missed four games after running into the outfield wall in Los Angeles on May 13. He said Sunday he thinks his left knee will bother him some all season. Johnson was adamant about Harper's sliding style.
"When you keep sliding head-first and your knee takes the full brunt really, that's a problem," Johnson said.
Harper was as adamant that it wasn't a problem.
"I don't know the difference between sliding head-first and sliding feet-first," he said. "It just depends on the situation and which way I want to slide to the bag. If I slid feet-first right now, my knee might pop and not be good.
"I'm going to feel it either way, it doesn't matter. I don't think [feet-first] is going to help anything. It probably won't get better until the offseason, so I have to deal with the pain and try to keep in there every day and we'll see what happens."
He was much more succinct when he was asked if he expected to miss a few days.
"No," Harper said.
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