As Nats battle through injury, team continues to lean on starters as winning streak hits 8.

Strasburg dealing

While the injury bug has reeked havoc on the presumed Opening Day lineup for the Washington Nationals, the return to form for a couple of starters from injury or ineffectiveness have been the jolt the team has needed to extend a significant winning streak.

In Game one of a three game home set vs the rival Atlanta Braves, Stephen Strasburg returned to make his first start after a stint on the DL that lasted 21 days, pitched five shutout innings and Anthony Rendon tied a career high of four hits in the 3-1 victory.  Strasburg (4-5) was resilient in his return, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out six . He allowed baserunners in four of five innings but left with his first scoreless start this season. Drew Storen loaded the bases in the life but wiggled his way out of trouble for his 21st save of the season.  In Game two, Ian Desmond’s 11th inning sacrifice fly scored Bryce Harper from 3rd to pull out a 2-1 victory, Drew Storen had a chance to seal the deal in the 9th but blew only his 2nd safe opportunity of the season and wasting a scattered six hits in eight scoreless innings.  Doug Fister’s second start from his own DL stint made history, by tossing seven innings of shutout ball, Nats starters set a team record with 41⅓ consecutive shutout innings, and buoyed by six runs in the first three innings, completed the sweep with a 7-0 victory for the team’s sixth consecutive win overall and eighth in a row over Atlanta.

Max Scherzer’s start to lead off the three game set in Philadelphia was highly anticipated.  After two of the greatest starts in Nationals history, including only the second no-hitter in the 10 years the franchise has called Washington home, the biggest question going in was could he somehow replicate the previous dominance.  His bid for history was denied by a double on a 1-1 pitch to the right-field wall by Freddy Galvis after 6 1/3 perfect innings and 16 retired batters in a 5-2 win for the team’s seventh in a row.  Scherzer (9-5) allowed two runs and five hits in eight innings.  Saturday’s matchup was rained out, albeit after 2 innings and a considerable rain delay.  Because of that, Gio Gonzalez had to waste a start to the chagrin of Manager Matt Williams.  The rainout forced a doubleheader on Sunday.  And in the first game of the double header, Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high nine in seven strong innings to lead the Nats to their eighth straight victory, a 3-2 win to take the series.  Strasburg (5-5) allowed two runs on four hits with one walk in his second good outing since returning from the disabled list.  Drew Storen pitched the ninth for his 23rd save of the season.  Unfortunately, spot starter Tanner Roark was unable to keep the streak going with a pedestrian eight earned runs, 12 hits in only 3 1.3 innings in a 8-5 defeat.

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Behind Scherzer’s brilliance, Nationals show life

Scherzer is excited after the final out is recorded for his first career No-Hitter

The Nationals thought they had turned the corner on the season with the 21-6 streak from Late April thru mid May, but with lackluster play the last 4 weeks, the team was mired in 2nd place in the National League East, things may be finally coming back to normal for the 2015 campaign due to some extraordinary starting pitching and the revival of the lineup.

It didnt look that way starting the week with a 4 game home and home set vs the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays.  In Game 1 in Tampa, Gio Gonzalez (4-4) continued his puzzling season as he gave up five runs and eight hits over 3 1/3 innings in a 6-1 rout.  The only reason the Nats were not shut out was a bases loaded RBI single in the ninth by Yunel Escobar.  In Game 2, in this “feast or famine” season for the offense,  it was all feast as they scored a season high 16 runs as Wilson Ramos became the 1st player in MLB history to homer twice off positional players in a 16-4 thrashing.  Clint Robinson homered as well as Bryce Harper as he clubbed his team leading 22nd and finished a triple shy of the cycle.  Tanner Roark (3-2) allowed one run and six hits over seven innings to notch the victory. Games 3 and 4 of the series was back at home in the friendly confines but a former Nat stole the show.  Steven Souza Jr, most notably known for making the defensive play of the year last season with the diving catch to secure Jordan Zimmermann’s no hitter on the final day of the regular season, returned to Nationals Park to a loud ovation before his first at bat, which then turned into boos as he singled then homered in a 5-0 shutout loss.  The aforementioned Zimmermann took the loss allowing three runs in seven innings and the defense committed three errors.  In the final game of the set, fans across the world collectively held their breath as Bryce Harper took an awkward fall in the wet outfield while making a routine throw.  As awful as the fall looked, Harper was spared any serious injury but the team fell to the Rays 5-3 to lose the series. At the time of the tumble, Harper was hitting .344 with 22 home runs and 52 RBI.  The scare overshadowed the return of Doug Fister to the rotation after a month out with forearm tightness Thursday. He allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings to take the loss.

Coming into the three game set vs the Pirates, the Nats were floundering and the Pirates were riding high on a league leading eight game winning streak, just like last week, rookie Joe Ross had another yeoman’s performance as he struck out 11 in just his third major league start to win 4-1 in the opener.  Ross (2-1) was dominant as he only allowed one run, six hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings.  Wilson Ramos had two hits and two RBI for the Nationals, who ended a four-game home losing streak.

Saturday’s tilt saw the first start of Max Scherzer since his last start vs Milwaukee where he was only a bloop single away from a no-hitter.  This game, he was even better as he was only one STRIKE away from the first perfect game in Nationals history.  Although he lost his perfect game in agonizing fashion with a HBP on a 2-2 count with 2 outs, Scherzer (8-5) was still able to recover quickly enough to retire Josh Harrison on a deep fly ball to left for the final out to complete the Nationals second no-hitter in as many seasons.  The 30-year-old righty struck out 10 in his second straight dominant performance and was cheered by a crowd of 41,104 who agonized with every pitch from the 7th inning on, knowing they just may be apart of history.  Scherzer is the fifth pitcher — and first since 1944 — to allow one hit or fewer over two consecutive complete games, turning in perhaps the most magnificent consecutive starts in the majors since Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters for Cincinnati in 1938.  His ERA is now a league leasing 1.76.  Bryce Harper returned to the lineup after the injury scare and did what he’s done all season, hit homers (his 23rd) and drive in runs (2).

In the third game, the Nationals had the best start in team history with a 9-run 1st inning highlighted by, you guessed it, Bryce Harper’s 2 run blast, his 24th and Yunel Escobar’s 3 run blast to pace the offense.  Gio Gonzalez (5-4) pitched seven shutout innings while scattering just four hits, struck out four and walked two as the Nationals completed a three-game sweep.

As the bullpen falters and injuries continue to mount, The Ace and a spot starter salvage week for Nats

Scherzer dealing….

In a week where the Nationals made a rare visit to Yankee Stadium for a two game set, the Nats unfortunately had to place 1st baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the DL with Plantar Fasciitis for his yearly DL stint, to join Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Craig Stammen on the mend.  In Game 1 in New York, Max Scherzer (6-5) was outpitched by Masahiro Tanaka as the Yankees won their seventh straight game overall in a 6-1 win.  Ian Desmond’s two-out throwing error in the 7th broke a 1-all tie as he continued his befuddling season.  Bryce Harper crushed his 20th home run of the season in the losing effort, the 9th in 11 ballgames.

Game 2 became a huge game in the short term and Denard Span treated it as such.  Scratched from the lineup the previous night because of his back, Span had three hits and two RBI in the  5-4 victory Wednesday that ended the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak. Span’s hustle helped the banged-up Nationals win for only the third time in 12 games. Michael taylor hit a tying, two-run homer in the eighth and Span’s infield single in the 11th scored Tyler Moore from 3rd to give Drew Storen the opportunity to pitch a perfect 11th for his 19th save of the season.

On to Milwaukee for a four game set, the Nats bullpen continued to not make the pitches they need to when called for duty as they blew a four run lead as the Brewers scored  five unanswered runs to defeat the Nats 6-5.  Aaron Barrett (3-2) took the loss.  In Game 2, Jordan Zimmermann (5-4) was knocked around for six runs and nine hits in only 3 1/3 innings in his shortest start since April 13, and Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers threw seven effective innings as the Brewers earned atleast a split in the series with a 8-4 win.  Game three’s starter, rookie Joe Ross (1-1) quite possibly gave the Nats the best effort of the season considering the dire circumstances with eight solid innings pitched, resting the weary bullpen and two run homers by Yunel Escobar and Wilson Ramos powered the Nats to a 7-2 win.  Bryce Harper drove in two runs in a 3 -3 effort to raise his batting average to a robust .343 before leaving the game after being drilled in the knee by a 95 mph fastball in the 9th inning, which would keep him out of Sunday’s game.  Game four could have been called “The Max Scherzer Show” because thats exactly what it was for anyone who was fortunate to watch what was one of the greatest pitching performances in team history.  16Ks…1BB…1 bloop single is all given up by the ace in a complete game 4-0 shutout.  Scherzer (7-5) was in a groove from the start and it continued throughout as he struck out a batter every inning in this masterpiece.  His ERA dropped to a minuscule 1.93 for the season.  Clint Robinson drove in 2 runs on the only extra base hit of the game by either team with a double 7th.