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On long, up-and-down day, Strasburg stands tall

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On long, up-and-down day, Strasburg stands tall

PHILADELPHIA — A lot happened over the course of seven hours Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, where the Nationals and Phillies engaged in 18 innings of baseball, some of it good and some of it bad and some of it painful.

A doubleheader split — a 3-2 victory in the opener, then an 8-5 loss in the finale — might have left the Nationals feeling like the entire day was a lost cause. Nothing gained, nothing lost.

That may be true in the standings, but the standings felt inconsequential on this day to what proved to be the most important development of the entire afternoon/evening: Another really impressive start by Stephen Strasburg.

With seven innings of 2-run ball, Strasburg validated his 5-inning return from the disabled list last week and gave further evidence to suggest his early season struggles are long behind him, with plenty more positive outings still to come.

"It's huge," said first baseman/outfielder Clint Robinson, who drove in two runs in the nightcap. "He struggled a little bit to begin the year, but now that he looks like he's back on track, he's just another piece to our great rotation. We need him a lot. He's really important to us. So to get him back on track and out there throwing up zeroes like everyone else is really important."

Dominant starting pitching was the common denominator throughout the Nationals' 8-game winning streak, which finally came to end Sunday evening after Tanner Roark was rocked for eight runs in a spot start necessitated by Saturday's rainout after only 1 1/2 innings. It's how this team was built to win. And Strasburg is a key piece to that puzzle.

What he has shown in two starts since a brief DL stint to deal with a strained trapezius muscle and out-of-whack mechanics — two runs, eight hits, two walks and 15 strikeouts over 12 innings — suggests he is back to his old self again.

"It's nice that he's healthy," manager Matt Williams said. "It's nice that he feels good about going out there. He's had no issues, which is great. When he doesn't, that can be the result."

Strasburg's start was important not only for the results he posted but for the quality innings he pitched. In the opener of a doubleheader with an uncertain Game 2 starter, the Nationals needed something like this from Strasburg, and he delivered.

Picking up right where he left off Tuesday against the Braves, Strasburg was in complete control throughout, relying on his fastball to set up hitters. He did turn to his offspeed stuff more to put guys away, leading to a season-high nine strikeouts, thanks to the best change-up he has featured in quite some time.

"Change-up is starting to come back to me," he said. "I'm starting to execute it a lot better and more consistently."

Perhaps the most important thing Strasburg did on Sunday, though, was take the mound for the bottom of the seventh and emerge from that inning having preserved the Nationals' 3-2 lead ... not to mention their bullpen.

With his pitch count at 96 and having labored somewhat in the sixth, Strasburg might normally have been pulled. But with another game still to be played, with a fill-in starter out of the bullpen, Williams decided to try to squeeze one more inning out of his right-hander.

"It's important for him to stretch it," the manager said. "We knew that going in. So, yeah, I thought it was important for our whole team for him to get deep in the game for us, and he provided that."

Strasburg finished with some of his best work of the day, retiring the side on a flyball and two more strikeouts, capping a 113-pitch performance that was sorely needed.

"This whole season my arm strength has always been there," Strasburg said. "It's been kind of fighting through the mechanical issues and everything like that. So I was glad to go out there for seven, and I felt just as strong in the seventh as I was in the first."

The Nationals would have loved to get a comparable start out of Roark in the nightcap, but the right-hander didn't have one in him. Pressed back into the rotation for one spot start, he was roughed up for eight runs on 12 hits (11 of them singles) in only 3 1/3 innings.

Not that the Phillies were blasting the ball all over the park against Roark. Three of the hits never left the infield, and another two were perfectly placed groundballs that sneaked their way through.

"That's the game of baseball," Roark said. "You can't win them all. You can't pitch lights-out every single time. You just go out there, go about your business, do your job and sometimes it goes that way."

Given how well their rotation has performed over the last week-plus, the Nationals couldn't be too upset with one clunker of a start at the end of a long weekend.

"They had some balls that snuck through," Williams said. "They did a nice job of staying on baseballs and making contact and hitting it through the middle of the diamond. But a lot of grounders today that got through the infield, a couple balls off the end of the bat. Yeah, not his day."

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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USA TODAY Sports

Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

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USA Today Sports

MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

A sea of red and white Nationals jerseys flooded toward the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But there wasn’t a Bryce Harper signing. And there wasn’t even a game. The Nationals are in New York to play the Mets. 

Then, as I turned and walked down the street I began to see random jerseys: Phillies, Yankees, Astros and Mets, among others.

It all clicked.

Ah, yes, the MLB All-Star weekend and its annual FanFest

As I walked inside the building and looked around, there was everything from memorabilia to interactive games like a speed gun, home run derby and more. 

MLB fans filled the building and the once-sea of red and white thinned out into a blob of colors. Fans from all different teams came out for the weekend’s festivities.

This left me curious: Could I find a jersey for every MLB team?

It was easy to find the big name teams. Going down the escalator, I was hit with a couple Jacob deGrom jerseys and a Carlos Correa one, as well. 

Mets, check. Astros, check.

A right turn and there was an Aaron Nola jersey, the All-Star phenom who surprised this year for the first-place Phillies. Check.

The Yankees and Red Sox weren’t far behind. 

As the day went on, my notepad of teams kept getting crossed off. The National League Central was the first division to go, and the American League Central followed suit. Surprisngly, it took me a couple hours — of course, I wasn't searching the whole time — to find the Marlins. Every other NL East team was easy.

Three hours later, I had found all but five teams: Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels. 

I decided to take another lap before I left. And standing, right by the stolen base activity, stood a man in a Randy Johnson throwback Diamondbacks jersey. 

We both look at the kids running down the line toward the base before a purple jersey caught my eye. It was another kid, waiting in line, wearing a Nolan Arenado jersey.

That left me with just three more teams. As I headed toward the exit, I was shocked I had not seen a Mike Trout jersey. One of the greatest players in modern baseball and not one Angels fan.

Then a co-worker pointed toward the MLB shop area. Finally, a Trout jersey. And then I turned around to grab my backpack and notebook. Another Trout jersey. Weird. I crossed off the name and looked up. Another Angels jersey. OK, enough. 

With just two more jerseys left and me being the stubborn person I am, I walked around the FanFest for another 20 minutes, looking for that green A’s jersey, or dark blue Rays one. 

Then, I finally found Stomper, the Athletics mascot taking photos with kids. On him was an A’s jersey — ironic, right? 

After about 10 more minutes I gave up. There were no Rays jerseys. The best I could do was a Tampa Bay tank top a woman was wearing while her kids played. But, that doesn’t count. We’re looking for jerseys.

Oh, and here are other sports apparel that I saw before that non-existent Rays jersey.

  • Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan t-shirt
  • San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo jersey 
  • A Texas Longhorns athletic shirt
  • France soccer jersey
  • Philadelphia 76ers shirt
  • Montreal Expos Vlad Guerrero jersey
  • Oakland Raiders Bo Jackson jersey
  • Golden State Warriors Steph Curry jersey
  • DC United Wayne Rooney jersey

And so, the search for a Rays jersey continues. 

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