- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stephen Strasburg might be the No. 3 starter in the Washington Nationals’ vaunted rotation, but on a blustery Sunday afternoon, he sure pitched like an ace. Strasburg had a no-hitter through 4 2/3 innings and allowed only one run in the game, leading the Nationals to a 4-1 victory.

Washington has a welcome day off Monday and will be back at Nationals Park on Tuesday to begin a three-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals.

THE RUNDOWN:Denard Span was back in the lineup Sunday, and his impact was immediate. With two outs in the fifth inning, he roped a single to right field, sparking a four-hit, three-run inning. Ian Desmond doubled, Jayson Werth singled, Bryce Harper was intentionally walked and Ryan Zimmerman doubled. Throw Anthony Rendon in the mix there somewhere, and it’s exactly what the Nationals envisioned from the top half of their order entering this season. Zimmerman drove in an insurance run with a single in the seventh, and that was more than enough for Strasburg, Matt Thornton and Drew Storen to close the door. The Nationals took three of four from Philadelphia and have now won four of their past five games.

THE HIGHLIGHT: Making just the second start of his major league career at third base, Danny Espinosa made one of the toughest plays you’ll see this season. In the fourth inning, Freddy Galvis hit a pop fly to foul territory just beyond the visitors’ dugout and Espinosa gave chase. Running full speed, or close to it, he slid up against the side railing and made a basket, over-the-shoulder catch. It’s an incredibly difficult play to make, and he made it look pretty routine, showing once again why he might be the best all-around defensive player on this team.

STAR OF THE GAME:Strasburg. The right-hander struggled with command in his first two starts but was stellar Sunday afternoon. He carried a perfect game into the fifth inning on only 32 pitches, but Carlos Ruiz singled with two outs to break up the no-hitter. From that point on, Strasburg walked two and allowed four additional hits but remained in control. He gave up only one run over 7 1/3 innings, and 73 of his 95 pitches were strikes. 

THE TAKEAWAY: It’s amazing to see how the returns of Werth and Span have impacted this Nationals’ lineup. There’s the obvious factors, namely a longer lineup with Zimmerman hitting fifth, Ramos sixth and so on. But there’s also a renewed comfort. The Nationals have, as a whole, simply looked more relaxed at the plate over the past five games. Part of that has to do with Werth and Span, who have lessened the burden on everybody else. It’s also been interesting to see how opposing teams, Philadelphia in particular, have treated Harper. Through 13 games, he’s already been intentionally walked five times, a career-high. That puts Zimmerman, one of the best clutch hitters in baseball according to Fangraphs.com, in a lot of RBI situations and could have a significant impact on the season as a whole.

SEE ALSO: Michael Taylor is sent down as Denard Span rejoins Nationals

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