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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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A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

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USA TODAY Sports

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

Tuesday evening's All-Star game was fairly uneventful until its later innings. The American League triumphed over the National League, 8 - 6, for their sixth straight All-Star game victory.

Despite fears of potential rain and inclement weather delaying the game, there were no unexpected stops in play. 

The AL started very strong offensively, with runs from Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in the top of the second and third innings, respectively. Jean Segura's three-run homer in the top of the eighth made victory look inevitable for the AL by the fifth. 

Max Scherzer, unsurprisingly, was well received among fans at Nationals Park. The Nats starter pitched the first two innings, giving up four hits. One was Judge's second-inning homer, but Scherzer remained unfazed and lighthearted. Four strikeouts made his performance commendable.

Bryce Harper did not get on as well, striking out in both of his at-bats. After Harper's Home Run Derby win last night, there was chatter of him going for the MVP title as well. 

It didn't work out, but given Harper's consistent presence at the All-Star game, there's always another chance.

Elsewhere in the dugout for the NL, who rallied back from the three-run deficit, the kids were all right. Willson Contreras of the Cubs had a solo homer at the bottom of the third, the Rockies' Trevor Story had one in the seventh, and Christian Yelich added another in the eighth. A two-run homer by Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the ninth brought the game back to a 5-5 tie.

Jesus Aguilar struck out for the NL, and extra innings began.

In the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer, both of the Astros, hit home runs almost immediately off of Dodgers pitcher Ross Stipling. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

With no outs, Michael Brantley took a sacrifice flyout to right field, and Jean Segura got in one more run to put the score at 8-5.

Though Joey Votto (Reds) hit one last home run in the bottom of the tenth, the NL couldn't quite make up the deficit.

After a late night, the American League will be going home happy.

MORE ALL-STAR GAME NEWS:

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Live Blog

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB All-Star Game Live Blog

This is the year's most ambitious crossover event in baseball. Dozens of MLB standouts from dozens of teams ally along either the National or American league. The two teams play against each other in a lighthearted frankensquad matchup. It's a welcome change of pace, considering how stressed we are about the Nationals' win percentage.

At the moment, we're keeping our eyes to the sky to monitor incoming rain. Aside from the threat of rain delay, we're excited to see how things unfold.

TOP 10 - Yikes, uh, so that's two solo home runs, and still no outs?

BOT 9 - A lot of people have either Bad Bunny or Post Malone as their walk up music. Also, uh, Scooter did a two-run homer, so now we're going to extra innings.

TOP 9 - Nothing is happening. Yawn.

BOT 8 - Yelich homers! We love one Brewer! It's 5-3 AL.

TOP 8 - Segura hits a three-run homer. Cruz adds it to his Instagram story. The AL is up 5-2. Yikes.

TOP 8 - Blackmon is very charming when mic'd up. He's talking about how lonely the outfield is. In other adjacent boredom news, Mike Trout follows over 145 weather related accounts on twitter. Yes, we went through his 2,400 user long following list to check.

BOT 7 - Bottoms tend to be the most exciting. Arenado knows this. So he tied it with a solo homer.

TOP 7 - Please, we are all so tired, and this pace is so slow. Votto has a nice tag, Yelich loses a ball in the lights but still makes the out. 

BOT 6 - Everybody Hates The National League. Votto, Yelich, and Blackmon all come up short.

INT 6 - Everyone on the internet and the broadcast loses their minds over Manny Machado.

TOP 6 - Nelson Cruz goes up against pitcher Jeremy Jeffress to start the inning. We take a brief pause for another selfie. Isn't it kind of a bad idea to have your phone in your pocket when you're at bat? Anyway. Bregman hits a double, but is immediately outshined as we go to Manny Machado for an interview about how it feels to wear an Orioles uniform for (maybe) the last time. Limor pinch hits for Machado, and doesn't quite get it out of the park. Oh well.

BOT 5 - Contreras gets a hit off Jose Berrios and promptly gets tagged first. Javier Baez looks amazing at the plate, but flies out. Arenado walks. Trout-man catches Molina's almost-homer. NL, do better please.

TOP 5 - Aaron Nola strikes out Brandon Crawford fairly easily and Mookie Betts not so easily. Mike Trout, who looks like he would post pictures with trout and other fish on Instagram, pops up and across the first base line. Sorry AL.

BOT 4 - Bryce Harper faces Blake Snell and strikes out for the second time tonight. Maybe he thought tonight was a Strikeout Derby?

TOP 4 - Machado pops up to the third baseman in what may be his final at-bat wearing an Orioles uniform.

TOP 4 - Matt Kemp deftly avoids tampering charges when the FOX broadcast crew asks him about his selfie with Machado.

BOT 2 - Manny begins acquainting himself with his LA teammates.

BOT 2 - Chris Sale only stuck around for one inning, apparently. It's Luis Severino time in D.C. He allows a double from Matt Kemp to start but then strikes out Bryce Harper. 

TOP 2 - Aaron Judge takes Scherzer deep. 1-0 AL. Sigh.

BOT 1 - AL Starter Chris Sale responds with a scoreless frame of his own. We're on our way to that 3-2 thriller after all!!! 

TOP 1 - Scherzer strikes out Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve before walking Mike Trout (can't blame him) and allowing a hit to J.D. Martinez. No damage done though, and it's 0-0. 

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