Stephen Strasburg spun a slider in the dirt and Miami Marlins star slugger Giancarlo Stanton flailed helplessly at the ball. Moments later, he walked off the field shaking his head after a 95 mile-per-hour fastball whistled past him on the inside corner.
All afternoon long at Nationals Park on Thursday, Strasburg won almost every battle, including that one against Stanton in the seventh inning. By the end of his day he struck out 12 batters, preserved a weary bullpen and gave the Nats a chance to win a game where they ultimately prevailed 7-1.
"They came out aggressive and that happens with Stephen," manager Matt Williams said. "Teams swing early against him. He was able to establish it and work his changeup off of it. Strike one's the key."
Strasburg pitched 6 2/3 innings. After a leadoff single to begin the game, Miami's next base hit came with one out in the seventh when Marcell Ozuna ripped a fastball into the stands in left field. In between, the Marlins managed to reach base only by a fielders' choice, an error and a hit batter.
"We actually talked after his last start and [Strasburg] told me some things that he wanted to work on," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "And to see him go out and execute it today, exactly the way he wanted to change and what he was going to mess with, was pretty good to see. That's maturity. Everyone forgets how young he is."
Strasburg, 25, finally needed help of his own when he walked catcher Jeff Mathis with two outs in the seventh. Given Ozuna had just taken him deep, Williams turned to Jerry Blevins, the lefty reliever who retired pinch hitter Greg Dobbs to end the threat.
Strasburg struck out double-digit batters for the 13th time in his career. Only three times before had he topped 12 in one start. He gave up just three hits, including Ozuna's homer, and that walk while primarily staying with his fastball and change-up, something Williams said his pitcher got away from during Saturday's disappointing 6-2 loss to Atlanta.
"I don't need to go out there and trick guys and I don't need to go out there and be perfect," Strasburg said. "I've just got to attack the strike zone, let my stuff work and get much better results that way."
The Nats (7-2) completed a sweep of the Marlins (5-5) and have now won four in a row after losing the first two games at home to the Braves in that weekend series. They are alone in first place in the NL East and begin a six-game road trip on Friday, where they will again see Atlanta and then the Marlins.
Jayson Werth homered for the second straight game for Washington. On Wednesday, his grand slam in the eighth inning helped push it to a 10-7 victory. On Thursday he took Miami starter Tom Koehler deep in the bottom of the third. That two-run shot, with Anthony Rendon aboard after a walk, was Werth's second homer of the season and all the runs the Nats would get until the eighth inning.
"I got the green light from [Williams], got a pitch up that was elevated and put a good swing on it," Werth said. "Good to get us out in front there and [Strasburg] pitched a heck of a game. And then we tacked on some runs late. It was good to get the sweep."
Blevins faced three batters in all – two more in the eighth after retiring Dobbs on a fielders' choice grounder – and struck out two of them. That left reliever Aaron Barrett to deal with Stanton again in a one-run game.
A long shot to even make the team out of spring training, Barrett got Stanton, Miami's best hitter, a man with 117 homers through his first four seasons and two already this year, to strike out on an 84 mile-per-hour breaking ball to end the inning.
At age 26, in his first big league season, Barrett has now retired 12 of the first 13 batters he's faced. In all, Washington pitchers struck out 17 Marlins batters.
Rendon led off the eighth inning with a double. That extended his hitting streak to nine games, the longest such streak to begin a season for a Nats player. Washington continued to torch Miami's bullpen as it had all series. Werth followed with a single up the middle off reliever Arquimedes Caminero.
Kevin Frandsen then drew a walk to load the bases and Bryce Harper followed with another on just four pitches. Caminero stayed in the game to face Desmond, who crushed a pitch into the red seats in center field for a grand slam.
"We've got to keep it going. This is the type of ball that we can play," Werth said. "You've got to keep tacking on runs late. These teams in our division, they can hit. So they're going to be doing the same. But I think night in, night out if we come in here looking to outslug the other team we're going to be in good shape."
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