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Strasburg reminds us just how good he can be

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Strasburg reminds us just how good he can be

Nights like this, when Stephen Strasburg takes complete ownership of a baseball game and renders any opposing lineup (no matter the talent within it) helpless, can leave you with mixed emotions.

Yes, this kind of performance — 12 strikeouts, zero walks, one run allowed over seven innings — causes a crowd of 37,115 to rise as one and cheer every third strike and salute the right-hander with a lengthy ovation when he departs the mound for good. But it also causes those same people to turns wistful, to have those “what-if?” feeling crop up and lament what might’ve been had Strasburg been able to do this on a more-regular basis.

Thing is, this win over the Rockies didn’t come out of the thin-blue sky. Strasburg has done this plenty of times in his career. Actually, more often than not. Shoot, he was doing it before his season was derailed by another DL stint five weeks ago.

Bet you didn’t realize that over his last four starts — three before he strained his left oblique muscle, plus Saturday’s return in a 6-1 victory over Colorado — Strasburg is now 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, 30 strikeouts and four walks. Bet the sight of him taking the mound for the first time since July 4 left you fearing the worst, not expecting the best.

Strasburg’s teammates know you feel that way. They just don’t understand why.

“I think for some reason, people have always been very hard on him no matter what,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “If he does well, it’s not good enough. If he does bad, then it’s kind of like the ‘I-told-you-so’ thing. This guy, he’s the worst best pitcher I’ve ever seen in my life. This guy gets no credit for what he’s done since he basically came out. To see him throw the ball like that, that was fun to watch.”

Indeed, it was. And it should offer everyone ample reason to believe there’s plenty more of it still to come.

Strasburg looked nothing like a pitcher coming off a month-long DL stint, nor one who entered with a 5.16 ERA and serious questions about his standing in the bigger picture. He looked like a guy who has been in a groove for weeks, not on the shelf.

His fastball command was spot-on, with 78 percent of those pitches thrown for strikes. His changeup was effective enough, if occasionally off-target. And his curveball was devastating, a knee-buckler that accounted for five of his 12 strikeouts.

“He’s one of the best in baseball when he’s out there doing his thing,” right fielder Bryce Harper said. “Painting 98 on the black, reaching 99 sometimes … great curveball, good changeup … he’s got four ‘plus’ pitches. He’s very good out there, and when he’s in control he’s unhittable.”

For all his struggles at times earlier this season, Strasburg was still consistently throwing the ball hard, striking batters out and limiting walks. His 9.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate is right in line with his career standards. His 2.4 walks-per-nine-innings rate also falls right in line.

Strasburg just was giving up more hits than he usually does, struggling with his fastball command and perhaps his pitch selection at times.

“I feel like my feel for my pitches has always been there,” he said. “I think it’s just knowing what I want to do with it in certain spots. I’ve just been working hard and continually preparing as much as I can for these guys, and trying to have a good game plan.”

The plan worked to perfection Saturday night, not only on the mound but at the plate. A one-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Strasburg stepped up to bat for the first time with a goose egg for the season in 16 at-bats. He wound up going 3-for-3, raising his season batting average a mere 158 points.

“He can really hit!” manager Matt Williams said with a big smile when he thought about Strasburg’s outing.

It was a night that warranted plenty of smiles. The Nationals coasted to an easy victory. The Mets actually lost a game for the first time in nine days, bringing their lead in the NL East down to 1 1/2 games.

And the man who has been an enigma much of the season showed everyone once again just what he can be, and what he could mean to this club down the stretch.

“It’s definitely been an up-and-down year and it’s been a huge learning experience,” Strasburg said. “I’m excited to have another opportunity and go out tomorrow and get ready for the next one.”

You should be excited about it, too.

MORE NATIONALS: Nats win as Strasburg dominates in return to the mound

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.