- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Stephen Strasburg’s size is more clear when he rounds the bases. Strasburg jogged by Miami first baseman J.T. Realmuto, second baseman Dee Gordon, shortstop Miguel Rjoas and third baseman Derek Dietrich in the fifth inning. He’s bigger than all of them.

Strasburg was taking his lap around the infield after hitting a first-pitch fastball to center field for his second home run of the season. It was the third homer of his career, and the first run of Wednesday’s 4-0 all-Strasburg, all-the-time win against the Miami Marlins.

The hitting aspect was humorous. Strasburg’s two hits launched his average to .156. The home run, in particular, was well-received in the dugout. He hit a line-drive single and almost had a third hit when a ground ball bounced through the middle after the Marlins intentionally walked Jose Lobaton to pitch to Strasburg. Gordon ruined third-hit hope with a sliding stop. But, what mattered most was Strasburg’s dominant pitching.

He allowed six hits in his second career complete game. One was a bunt single by the fleet Gordon. He struck out eight and walked one intentionally to bring the opposing pitcher to the plate. Strasburg needed 110 pitches to chop his way through the Marlins top-heavy order and help the Nationals complete a sweep of the second-best team in the National League East. Taking three consecutive from Miami also shrinks the Nationals’ “Magic number” to 16. An early or mid-September division clinch is on the horizon.

None of this left the typically stoic Strasburg overjoyed.

“Take it one inning at a time,” Strasburg said. “You can’t sit here and after the first inning think, ‘I’m going to go nine today.’ The game’s way too hard.”

How about the home run?

“We haven’t had BP in such a long time, I really didn’t have high expectations,” Strasburg said. “I haven’t picked up a bat really… American League…probably since my start in San Diego I haven’t picked up a bat. I don’t know. Sometimes you’re just lucky.”

Lobaton was more impressed.

“Oppo? Wow!” Lobaton said.

Strasburg credited Lobaton for his calling of the game. He gave a non-answer, seemingly protecting strategy, when asked about dealing with Miami strongman Giancarlo Stanton, who was 0-for-4 on the day and 3-for-13 in the series. Stanton arrived in the District on Monday hitting nearly .400 in the month of August. In a rare mistake on the day, Strasburg did get away with one pitch to him that traveled down the middle of the plate. Stanton hit a hard ground ball instead of a soaring home run.

“Sometimes, it’s just your day,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “You see that on occasion when it’s your day and today was his day.”

Wednesday was Strasburg’s third outing since returning from the disabled list Aug. 19. The results have improved with each step. In three starts, his ERA is 0.86. His WHIP is 0.762. Add that to Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez, and the top tier of the Nationals’ rotation is second, third and fourth, respectively, in ERA in the National League.

There were droplets of help from his teammates Wednesday: Wilmer Difo picked up two more hits, including his fifth home run. Anthony Rendon drove in a run. A wild pitch brought home pinch-runner Alejandro De Aza.

The Nationals packed afterward for a seven-game road trip a robust 30 games over .500. They play the Marlins again next week. That’s another opportunity to expand their wide division lead and shrink the number of wins they need to claim the division title. They are in line to clinch right around the time the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the District in two weeks.

Strasburg’s day wasn’t done once he left the mound. He packed for the trip and looked forward to seeing his kids before getting on the airplane to Milwaukee. A magazine titled “Fantasy Football” in a player’s backpack indicated where the real stakes existed today. The team’s fantasy football draft is Wednesday night. Strasburg is the league’s commissioner. Based on how the rest of his day went, the others playing are in trouble.

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