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Strasburg, Harper lead Nats to win in opener

Ace righty retires 19 straight at one point; outfielder blasts two homers

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are favored to win the National League East title and, on Monday, lived up to expectations on the first day of the regular season as right-hander Stephen Strasburg -- seven shutout innings -- and outfielder Bryce Harper -- two home runs --  helped Washington blank the Marlins, 2-0 , in front of 45,274 fans at Nationals Park.

For Strasburg, he allowed three hits and struck out three batters, focusing more on getting quick outs than getting batters to swing and miss.

Strasburg has yet to pitch past the seventh inning in his career. Last year, Strasburg was on an innings limit because of Tommy John surgery, but he's not on an innings limit this year.  He threw 80 pitches, 52 for strikes.

Manager Davey Johnson believed that Strasburg could have gone more than seven innings, but the atmosphere of Opening Day was too much for Strasburg to handle.

"Any other day, I would have gone further with him, but with the adrenaline going on Opening Day, he could have been a little spent," Johnson said. "But he was outstanding.

"I didn't think he was tired, even at the end of the game, but during the first time out on Opening Day, he gave me seven solid innings, [and] I'm not pushing the envelope. I never have, I never will."

Even Strasburg agreed with Johnson's decision to take him out after seven innings.

"I felt good. I was trying to execute the game plan," Strasburg said. "They are going to be hacking. I was fortunate enough making quality pitches and getting some quick outs. I felt great after seven innings. If it wasn't Opening Day and the first start of the year, it would have been a different story."

After giving up a leadoff single to Juan Pierre in the first inning, Strasburg retired the next 19 hitters he faced before Giancarlo Stanton doubled in the seventh inning.

Harper would give Strasburg all the runs he would need in the game. With starter Ricky Nolasco on the mound for Miami, Harper hit a 1-0 curveball over the right-field wall for his first home run of the season to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

Three innings later, Harper did an encore, hitting his second home run of the game -- a slider -- another shot that went over the right-field wall. After the second home run, at the urging of teammate Chad Tracy, Harper came out for a curtain call.

Harper was glad to hit the home runs in front of his parents, who were in attendance.

"It was a great moment, great experience," Harper said. "The second one, I really didn't take full advantage, I guess you would say. It was over and done."

Harper joined Raul Mondesi and Carlton Fisk as the only defending Rookie of the Year Award winners to hit two home runs in the first game of the following season.

"The kid's locked in," Nolasco said about Harper. "He had a good spring. I didn't make the best pitches to him, and he didn't miss them. That's what good hitters do. Obviously, with the spring he's had, he's seeing the ball really well, and he's not missing those mistakes."

"What can you say about Harp? I guess he likes the three-hole," Johnson said.

Harper was so pumped after the first home run that he stung Johnson's hand after he reached the dugout. Harper went easy on Johnson's hand after hitting the second home run.

"I'm glad he cut it down on the second one. I'm stinging from the first one," Johnson said about the high-fives.

Harper was even significant on defense. In the seventh inning, the Marlins had runners on first and third with one out when Rob Brantly lined out to Harper in left field. Harper then threw a strike to catcher Wilson Ramos, preventing Stanton from scoring from third. However, Placido Polanco tried to advance to second base and was caught in a rundown. Stanton then tried to score and was thrown out at the plate in a 7-2-3-4-2 double play.

"We checked the runner down there. [Danny] Espinosa made a great throw to the plate, and that's the way it was supposed to be," Johnson said.

Nationals relievers Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano blanked the Marlins the rest of the way, with Soriano picking up his first save as a member of the Nationals.

Clippard was chosen over Drew Storen because Clippard had better success against pinch-hitter Gregg Dobbs, who flied out to Harper in left field in the eighth inning.

Soriano looked like the antithesis of what he was during Spring Training. In the ninth, Soriano was unhittable and picked up two strikeouts.

"Obviously, Spring Training is overrated, but he certainly turned it up a notch and made nothing but quality pitches. He was outstanding," Johnson said about Soriano.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Rafael Soriano, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg