- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The injuries subsided, and the Washington Nationals rotation became whole again Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves. Stephen Strasburg returned from the disabled list and pitched five scoreless innings, his first scoreless outing of the year, to lead the Nationals to a 3-1 win.

The Nationals seized an early lead and never relinquished it. Anthony Rendon went 4-for-4 in his best offensive performance of the season, and Tanner Roark pitched two scoreless innings in his first appearance since returning to the bullpen. Drew Storen dug himself into a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the ninth but escaped to pick up his 21st save.

THE RUNDOWN: After the apocalyptic storm clouds passed, and a bright orange sky turned dark, the Nationals and Braves played a baseball game. It was 9:17 p.m. when Strasburg delivered his first pitch, the first since his return from the 15-day disabled list. He looked like his old self over five scoreless innings, showing no signs of the sprained ankle, tight neck or sore back that bothered him at various points this season. He allowed only four hits and walked only one batter. An early lead, built in the first inning and expanded in the third and fourth, helped put Strasburg at ease.

THE HIGHLIGHT: Yunel Escobar didn’t have a great all-around game Tuesday night. He skied a throw over Tyler Moore’s head on a would-be double play in the fourth, and he grounded into two double plays at the plate, wasting four hits by Rendon in front of him. The saving grace: He made a fantastic play at third in the seventh inning, ranging to his left, popping to his feet and firing to get the speedy Andrelton Simmons at first.

STAR OF THE GAME: Saying that Rendon struggled upon his return to the Nationals might be a bit of stretch. He wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t the Rendon that finished fifth in National League MVP voting, either. On Tuesday, he looked like that guy. He used a patient, controlled swing in his first at-bat to slap the ball down the first base line, scoring Denard Span from second. Then he proceeded to single in each of his three at-bats after that. He raised his batting average from .230 to .277 in a span of four plate appearances.

THE TAKEAWAY: It’s important not to put too much weight on one start, especially the first after a disabled list stint. This would’ve been equally true if Strasburg gave up 10 runs tonight instead of zero. Instead of numbers, let’s consider Strasburg’s demeanor, which was, in almost all respects, improved. He looked comfortable on the mound, his mechanics consistent. His fastball sat at 97 mph and occasionally touched 98. He didn’t throw many breaking pitches, but that may very well have been by design. And after perhaps his worst at-bat of the night, a walk to pitcher Alex Wood, he struck out Jace Peterson and got Cameron Maybin to hit a routine grounder to second. In other words, he didn’t let the mistake haunt him. All told, there were lots of encouraging signs — but we’ll have to wait a few more starts to see if Strasburg is truly back to his old form.

SEE ALSO: Stephen Strasburg pitches five scoreless innings in return

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