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As always, Strasburg all business

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As always, Strasburg all business

Perhaps one of these days -- when he throws a no-hitter or throws the final pitch of a pennant-clinching victory for the Nationals -- Stephen Strasburg will offer up the kind of display of emotion few have ever seen from him.

For now, there's very little that can happen on the field to break through the stone-faced visage of a 23-year-old right-hander who expects the very best from himself and isn't about to publicly celebrate his accomplishments.

Strike out seven of 10 batters over a four-inning stretch? Nothing. Club the first home run of your career and be summoned by an overflow crowd of 41,918 for a curtain call? Just give a quick tip of the cap. Find out your manager revealed you were were dealing with some kind of arm trouble? The exterior expression still doesn't change.

"I just think that's his thing," teammate Danny Espinosa said. "He doesn't show emotion, and that's good. If things are going good or bad, there's no emotion shown, which to me is an even-keeled guy."

There were other important developments during the Nats' 9-3 victory over the Orioles Sunday afternoon in the finale of this series. Bryce Harper overcame an early error to deliver the two-run triple that ignited a sleeping lineup. Jesus Flores mashed only his second big-league homer in three years. Espinosa produced two of his biggest hits in weeks.

At the end of the day, though, the spotlight once again shined brightest on the pitcher who has been under the brightest spotlight since the day the Nationals drafted him three summers ago. For plenty of reasons, some positive, some potentially negative.

Through it all, Strasburg stayed calm and determined. He wasn't fazed by a shaky couple of innings to begin his afternoon, when the Orioles scored three runs (two unearned) and jumped out to an early lead that left many wondering whether Strasburg was about to endure through another outing too similar to his previous laborious appearance five days earlier against the Padres.

He simply retired 10 straight batters, striking out seven to silence the Orioles' potent lineup.

"It was almost like deja vu, especially after what happened the previous game," he said. "I wanted to go out there and do a better job of not letting that affect how I attack hitters. It was nice to be able to go out there and adjust from it and keep the team in the ballgame long enough for us to put some runs on the board."

Unlike that game against San Diego, the Nationals stormed back and got Strasburg off the hook. Though he was just as influential in making that happen as anyone in the lineup.

It was Strasburg's leadoff single in the third that set in motion a three-run rally. And then one inning later, he pulled off his most extraordinary feat yet.

Behind in the count 0-2 to Baltimore left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, Strasburg decided to sit on a curveball. He got one, and the force of his swing sent shockwaves throughout the park.

The ball sailed toward left field, sending Xavier Avery back to the fence. Eventually, the Orioles outfielder ran out of real estate and could only watch as the ball landed in the visitors bullpen, then as Strasburg strolled around the bases on a 26-second victory lap following the first home run of his career.

"Shocking," Strasburg admitted. "That's for sure."

He, of course, was being modest. Those who watch Strasburg hit on a regular basis knew this might happen some day.

"Oh, we watch him all the time; it's a display," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think Ryan Zimmerman was joking: He needs to start in the All-Star Game and hit in the Home Run Derby. It's pretty impressive."

Throughout his stroll around the bases, Strasburg never showed any out-of-the-ordinary emotion. He didn't pump his fist. He didn't even appear to smile until he finally returned to the dugout and a few teammates began to rib him.

"I think Strasburg just expects to hit," Espinosa said. "He's a good hitter. He's a good athlete. I don't know, I don't think too much really affects him."

Perhaps not even some arm soreness that may or may not have been significant. Manager Davey Johnson surprisingly volunteered that Strasburg told him following the fifth inning that his right biceps muscle was tight. His pitch count already at 90, Johnson just decided to shut him down for the day.

"His tightness was in his bicep, and he said it was bothering him," the manager said. "Early on, he thought he could get it loose and keep going, but it seemed to get tighter on him. And as soon as I heard that, I said that was it."

Strasburg insisted he had no such issue in his biceps, only the typical kind of fatigue he feels after pitching.

"I wouldn't say it was just my arm," he said. "I think it was just my body."

Strasburg attributed the issue to his having overworked himself in the days since his last start. Perhaps wanting too much to bounce back from a four-inning loss, he did more extensive weight-lifting and throwing in the days since and paid the price for it Sunday when he took the mound.

"Nothing different than any other outing," he reiterated. "It's something that it's going to be like this for probably the rest of the year. It's just part of coming back from Tommy John surgery, building up the innings, getting the stamina and everything. It's something I've just got to be smart about."

Red flags might be waving across town now, but both Johnson and Strasburg insisted he'll make his next start -- currently scheduled for Saturday in Atlanta -- and that there is nothing to be concerned about moving forward. Given Strasburg's history and the manner in which the Nationals have taken extreme precautions with their former No. 1 pick, few would be surprised if the plan changes.

If this is actually something serious, Strasburg certainly wasn't letting on Sunday. He remained his usual self in the postgame clubhouse, chatting with teammates, watching highlights of his performance on MLB Network and eventually showering and dressing for the team's short bus ride to Philadelphia.

For now, he was concerned only with the job he did to help his team snap a three-game losing streak and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Orioles.

That's Strasburg's job, and he's very serious about it.

"To be completely honest, I'm the type of person I want to take ownership," he said. "I want to take charge. I want to be that guy they can rely on to get the job done. At times, I feel like I have to do more to go out there and get the team back on track. And a lot of it's out of my control. I have to go out there and try to do my job. And if everybody does their job, we're going to be OK."

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Can Gio Gonzalez lift Nats out of losing streak in series opener vs. Giants?

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USA TODAY Sports

Can Gio Gonzalez lift Nats out of losing streak in series opener vs. Giants?

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Giants right-hander Chris Stratton will seek to duplicate two impressive efforts when he takes the mound for the opener of a three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Monday night at 10:15 p.m. ET.

The series is the first in San Francisco since Giants reliever Hunter Strickland plunked Nationals star Bryce Harper with a pitch last May, triggering a brawl at the mound that resulted in the ejection of both players.

The Giants got the worst of the altercation, with slugging backup Michael Morse suffering a career-ending concussion in a collision with teammate Jeff Samardzija near the mound.

Stratton wasn't with the Giants at the time, but he contributed one of the best-pitched games of his young career when the clubs met again in Washington in August.

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Making just his third career start, the 27-year-old shut out the Nationals on five hits over 6 2/3 innings in a 4-2 win. He struck out 10.

It's the only time he has faced Washington.

Stratton (1-1, 2.22) has won just four times since, and came close to a fifth when he limited Arizona to one run in seven innings in his last start on Wednesday. He did not, however, get a decision in the 4-3 win, during which he recorded eight strikeouts.

The Giants will be opening a 10-game homestand following a 10-game trip on which they went just 4-6. Statton started two of the four wins.

Stratton wasn't the only Giants starter who pitched well on the trip. The club is coming off a series win against the Los Angeles Angels in which both Samardzija and Johnny Cueto took shutouts late into wins.

Strickland saved Sunday's 4-2 win for Cueto, and afterward was asked about his thoughts of seeing Harper again.

"Win a series," is all he would say.

RELATED: LATEST MLB POWER RANKINGS

In the Nationals, the Giants will be seeing a team coming off a high-profile series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, one that included a meeting on Sunday Night Baseball.

Washington lost two of three in the rematch of 2017 division winners, scoring a total of just eight runs on 21 hits in the three games, which ended with the Nationals stranding two in the top of the ninth of a 4-3 loss on Sunday.

Harper went 2-for-10 in the series, which the Nationals played without injured regulars Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton. They remain out.

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 2.49) will oppose Stratton.

The veteran has made 12 career starts against the Giants, going 5-4 with a 3.06 ERA.

He restored order to the Nationals-Giants series in San Francisco last season the day after the brawl, pitching 6 1/3 innings in a 6-3 win. It improved his record at AT&T Park to 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA in seven starts.

Gonzalez threw 97 pitches in beating the New York Mets 5-2 in his last start, allowing two runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings on Tuesday.

That pitch total wasn't even five times the number Giants first baseman Brandon Belt saw in one historic at-bat Sunday against the Angels' Jaime Barria in the first inning.

Belt fouled off 16 pitches and flied out on the 21st pitch of the at-bat, the most pitches in a Major League Baseball at-bat since 1988.

Afterward, Belt apologized.

"When I'm in the field, I hate it when a batter keeps fouling pitches off," he insisted. "I'm like, 'Dude, just put it in play. It's not that hard. Let's go.' So, I basically had to apologize to everybody after that."

RELATED: HOW NATS DROPPED FINAL GAME VS. DODGERS

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Bullpen falters as Dodgers rally from 3 runs down to top Nationals

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USA TODAY

Bullpen falters as Dodgers rally from 3 runs down to top Nationals

LOS ANGELES  -- Although Cody Bellinger's fierce line drive drove in the tying run, it hit the center field wall so quickly that the throw back to the infield beat him to second base.

No problem: Bellinger adroitly avoided the tag with a swim move he learned from watching Mike Trout on television, and the Dodgers kept charging toward the latest win in their comeback surge.

Bellinger followed Yasmani Grandal's two-run double with an RBI double in the sixth, and Corey Seager drove in Austin Barnes with the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Los Angeles' sixth win in seven games, 4-3 over the Washington Nationals on Sunday night.

With smart plays by Bellinger, Barnes and almost everybody else, the Dodgers (10-10) got back to .500 after a rough start for the defending NL champions. They were largely dominated by Jeremy Hellickson until they erased a three-run deficit in the sixth with three big hits from their patchwork lineup.

"There were signs of that old ballclub when we were coming from behind," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "That was good to see."

Los Angeles went ahead shortly after Barnes was hit by a pitch from Trevor Gott (0-1). Barnes wisely advanced to third on Chris Taylor's single and scored on Seager's fly.

"You've got to make something happen in that situation," Barnes said of his dash to third. "We're trying to get runs on the board late in the game. It was worth a shot. Be aggressive and play our kind of baseball, and eventually it'll pay off for us."

Alex Wood pitched six innings of six-hit ball for the Dodgers, and Josh Fields (1-0) survived a rocky seventh inning.

Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his first save since April 10 and his third of the season -- but not without drama. The Dodgers' vaunted closer began the ninth by yielding two singles, but then struck out Andrew Stevenson and Trea Turner before ending it on Howie Kendrick's fly to the warning track.

Michael Taylor homered, doubled, singled and walked for the Nationals, who have lost seven of 11.

Hellickson retired 14 straight Dodgers before doubles by Chris Taylor and Grandal, with a walk by Seager sandwiched between them. Bellinger followed with his go-ahead line drive against Sammy Solis.

"The one that Taylor got was probably just a tad up," Hellickson said. "(The pitch to) Grandal was down. Probably the only at-bat I'd like to have back is that one to Seager."

Michael Taylor put his first homer of the season into the home bullpen beyond left field in the fourth. He then doubled, advanced on Wood's pickoff throw into center field and scored on Moises Sierra's mid-length fly in the sixth for a 3-0 lead.

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