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Strasburg dominates, as Nats gain game on Mets with win

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Strasburg dominates, as Nats gain game on Mets with win

By MICHAEL KELLY

DENVER (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg pitched seven strong innings, Jayson Werth hit a tiebreaking triple in the eighth and the Washington Nationals rallied to beat the Colorado Rockies 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Strasburg (7-6) allowed just two hits, struck out five and didn't walk a batter in his third straight solid start since coming off the disabled list. Since returning to the rotation on Aug. 8, the big right-hander has allowed just three earned runs, struck out 25 in 20 innings and lowered his ERA from 5.16 to 4.22.

The Nationals tied it in the seventh when reliever Gonzalez Germen allowed a two-out double to Bryce Harper and walked two straight to load the bases. Germen then threw a wild pitch to Ryan Zimmerman and Harper scored easily to tie it at 1.

Washington again mounted a two-out rally off Rafael Betancourt (2-4) in the eighth. Wilson Ramos singled, pinch-hitter Clint Robinson walked and Werth lined a triple over the glove of right fielder Carlos Gonzalez to make it 3-1.

Werth finished with two hits.

Zimmerman added an RBI single in the ninth and Jonathan Papelbon got the final three outs for his 20th save and third with Washington.

Four Colorado pitchers combined to walk nine batters a night after issuing 10 bases on balls. Starter Jorge De La Rosa walked six but left the game without allowing a run after some clutch pitching through six innings.

He struck out Harper with a runner on third to end the fifth and he worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth.

The Rockies took a 1-0 lead on an unearned run in the second. Zimmerman misplayed Ben Paulsen's grounder down the first-base line for a two-base error. Paulsen moved to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.

Strasburg found his groove after that. He retired 17 of last 18 batters he faced, including the final 10.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Denard Span (back) had two hits in five innings of a rehab assignment Tuesday night. He was scheduled to play seven innings Wednesday. "He was scheduled to potentially DH but he called and said he was thinking about playing the field as well," manager Matt Williams said. "It's a good sign that he's feeling good."

Rockies: C Michael McKenry was placed on the 60-day DL with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. McKenry has played with a sore knee for most of the season.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (11-9, 2.73) will make his first start at Coors Field since 2009 when he was with Arizona.

Rockies: LHP Yohan Flande (2-1, 4.19) has struggled against the Nationals in his career. He is 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in three starts against Washington.

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Bryce Harper on facing the Nationals: 'It's definitely going to be weird'

Bryce Harper on facing the Nationals: 'It's definitely going to be weird'

Bryce Harper's felt the love in Philly from day one, he told reporters on Tuesday.

And when he comes to his old stomping grounds next week to face the Nationals, he knows it's going to be strange.

“The Nationals are a great team, and are gonna be a great team this year and everybody knows that," he said. "For me, I just want to focus on what we can as a team; as a clubhouse and control what we can.”

"It’s definitely going to be weird walking into opposing clubhouse and seeing the other guys from afar," he added of his impending April 2 trip to Washington. "I wish those guys nothing but the best on that side of the baseball."

But that doesn't mean he's missing his old teammates. In fact, he said, everything's been just great with his new teammates from day one.

"From day one, it felt right," he said. "I always talk about family and being a family and one unit. I get that from this team. Every guy has your back and vice versa. So, I'm very excited to go to battle with these guys.”

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More cuts have Nationals close to completing their Opening Day roster

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More cuts have Nationals close to completing their Opening Day roster

WASHINGTON -- And, scene.

Spring training is over. Bryce Harper didn’t arrive. Nor did Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel or camels. Tony Sipp did.

Injuries are limited: Howie Kendrick’s hamstring is healing rapidly, Michael A. Taylor’s knee and hip sprains are improving. Thursday’s 25-man Opening Day roster won’t include either. But, they should be back in the short-term as opposed to the long-term. Say they aren’t ready to play for another week, setting them to debut April 2. That means they miss just three games to start the season.

The Nationals are off Tuesday, have a workout Wednesday, then face Jacob deGrom, new owner of a reported five-year, $137.5 million extension, in Thursday afternoon’s opener. Which makes this a good time to go through spring training leftovers, thoughts and storylines that were under the radar or worth discussing again.

How long until Williams steals a bullpen spot?

Austen Williams’ first week in the major leagues taught him just how significant fluctuations can be at that level. He threw two scoreless innings in a Sept. 2 debut last year. Two days later, Williams recorded two outs and gave up three home runs. Such a prompt kick to the teeth temporarily squelched the joy of being in the majors.

“That was an unfortunate way for me to learn,” Williams told NBC Sports Washington. “You’d like to not have it quite that bad. Though after it’s all said and done, it’s a good thing to learn from.”

The outing taught Williams he needed to figure out how to throw the baseball in the majors -- the ball is physically different than the minor-league ball. The outing also showed him what major-league hitters can do against a fastball.

The baseball’s seams are lower in the majors, making it tougher to grip and control. Williams’ odd spike curveball grip, where he folds his index finger and has multiple other light contact points with the ball, made it all the trickier.

So, he spent the offseason working with the major-league ball. He also realized a simple truth: throwing your best pitch often provides the best chance for success. In Williams’ case, it’s his curveball.

Which led to this spring’s results: zero runs allowed, .083 batting average against, almost a strikeout per inning.

“Obviously, giving up no earned runs or no runs period is better than I expected,” Williams said. “Sometimes you can’t help giving up runs no matter how good you pitch. It was pretty awesome. I expected that of myself, honestly, or similar to that. I knew I had the skill and pitching and everything combined to pitch well in the big leagues.”

Which brings up the future roster question. Williams was sent to Triple-A Fresno on Tuesday morning. Which means Sean Doolittle, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Grace, Wander Suero, Jeremy Hellickson (for now), Justin Miller, Kyle Barraclough and Sipp are in. Williams will be waiting in California.

The Jake Noll story rolls on

The Nationals cut utility infielder Adrian Sanchez on Tuesday. The aforementioned Kendrick will be on the roster once healthy to work as a right-handed bat. Without him, the Nationals need one. That’s where Jake Noll comes in.

Noll, a 2016 seventh-round pick and Ryan Zimmerman doppelganger, arrived at spring training likely to be cut when the team made its first decisions. His hitting kept him around. He hit some more, so he stayed longer. Progressively, the lockers to Noll’s left and right were emptied out, leaving him on a wooden island once the team finished in Florida.

Monday, he walked into Nationals Park for the first time in his life at 12:15 pm. Noll checked out the weight room, gawked at the size of the clubhouse, then went to his new locker with a formal nameplate and “71” above it.

“It’s crazy, man,” Noll told NBC Sports Washington. “Definitely cool. I can’t really put it into words. It’s awesome.”

The Nationals have an open spot on the 40-man roster. They expect to carry five bench players Thursday when the games begin: Matt Adams, Kurt Suzuki, Andrew Stevenson and Wilmer Difo are four of them. Noll, who can play first, second and third, appears in line for the final spot.

This was not expected in early February. If Noll was told then how it would be now?

“I don’t know,” Noll said Monday. “Wouldn’t have shocked myself, but I would bet it would shock a bunch of other people. I knew I could play here. But guess I just had to prove it to everyone else.”

A few spring thoughts, observations and insights:

  • Brian Dozier’s defense already stands out. His movement and smoothness would be notable in a general sense. It’s even more prominent when compared to Daniel Murphy’s in-field struggles, particularly last season. Murphy was an offensive weapon for two of his three seasons in Washington. His defense, despite significant work, was subpar when healthy. It dove further last season. Dozier fits with the Nationals’ claim their defense should be so improved this season “runs saved” will become a significant factor for them.
  • Anibal Sanchez is throwing a changeup with such effect Statcast labels it a “splitter.” Sanchez struck out Aaron Judge and Luke Voit with the pitch Monday. He also, in essence, struck out Giancarlo Stanton with the changeup. Sanchez’s “tunneling” of his fastball and the changeup to right-handers allows a masking of the pitches. The speed gap is modest -- about seven mph -- but the late down-and-in action of the changeup after traveling the same path as the fastball for an extended period makes the combination lethal. Stanton struck out looking on a 91-mph fastball. Why? Because he thought it was the changeup, which would break out of the zone. It never did.
  • Spring training fun was limited to cards in the clubhouse and a few eventful early days in the “Circle of Trust.” Otherwise, the general tone was more serious than last year when Martinez brought in props to combat any mental hangover from losing in the playoffs. “There’s been a renewed sense of optimism and purpose throughout our whole camp,” Doolittle said.
  • If one spring storyline unified everyone it was Aaron Barrett’s ongoing comeback. Barrett pitched from the Nationals Park mound on Monday for the first time since Aug. 5, 2015. Sanchez waited for him on the mound to hand the ball over. Martinez said postgame he has to catch his emotions each time Barrett takes another step in his return from Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. Barrett kept a can of WD-40 in his locker throughout the spring for jokes, claiming he put it to use if the plates or screws in his elbow acted up. He’s throwing 92 mph, his slider is solid and Barrett will head to the minor leagues knowing the spring allowed him to check several more boxes in his unlikely comeback. Martinez thinks Barrett could be in the major leagues this season.

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