Strasburg follows Scherzer's lead, quells Braves
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have one of the most formidable starting rotation duos in all of baseball, with the ability to follow Max Scherzer up with Stephen Strasburg. And with such a duo comes the ability to halt losing skids. After the Nationals began this series on a five-game losing streak and below .500 for the first time since 2015, Scherzer and Strasburg responded with 17 consecutive scoreless innings between the two of them.
One night after Scherzer blanked the Braves for a complete-game shutout, Strasburg followed suit with a second consecutive dominant outing by a Nationals starting pitcher. He threw eight shutout innings to lead Washington to a 4-1 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
"There's only a few teams that have that, if any," right-hander Ryan Madson said. "If you want a stopper, there's no other place to look than Max Scherzer. And then to be followed up by Stephen, it's fun to watch. And that's why this team is going to be really good."
Atlanta began this series with one of the hottest lineups in baseball and had not lost a series yet this season. But it had no answer for the Nationals' pair of aces. Strasburg retired 12 consecutive batters from one out in the second inning until a one-out single from Ender Inciarte in the sixth inning. He yielded three hits and walked a pair, but struck out eight.
Even though there was a point where Strasburg was on pace to potentially throw a complete game, a lengthy eighth inning increased his pitch count to 103 and ultimately prevented him from matching Scherzer the night before.
"I know he's very competitive, just like Max," manager Dave Martinez said. "He wants to do well and help us win. I mean that's what he's all about."
Ryan Zimmerman got the Nationals on the board with a two-run triple in the first inning against right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, and the Nats took advantage of a few Braves defensive miscues to increase their lead to four. And that was more than enough for Strasburg, who completed his longest outing since Sept. 10, 2017, against the Phillies.
"You want to make quality pitches," Strasburg said. "There's going to be some games where you're not as efficient. But when all is said and done, it's still about executing, and if it's 100 pitches through five or 100 pitches through seven or eight, you're just going to go until you take the ball out of your hand."
Martinez had a brief meeting on the mound with Strasburg with two outs in the eighth inning, where Martinez walked to the mound and asked Strasburg how he was feeling. When the righty responded, 'Good,' Martinez promptly returned to the dugout and allowed Strasburg to complete the inning. Considering his injury history with a rested bullpen after Scherzer's gem the night before, Martinez elected to utilize his bullpen to close out the game. Sammy Solis and Madson combined to pitch the ninth inning and seal the victory.
"That's a rough two days when you have to face those two guys," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A rare Zimmerman triple: Zimmerman collected his first triple since May 2016 in the first inning, when his hit to center field landed just out of the reach of Inciarte in center field, allowing a pair of runs to score. Even though Inciarte made the play close, he only had a catch probability of 3 percent, according to Statcast™. After he reached third base safely, Zimmerman, who is not exactly known for his speed these days, looked up and pointed his hands to the sky.
"I've been having decent at-bats," Zimmerman said. "Not as many as I would want to have, but I haven't really been getting rewarded for hitting the ball well. So for one to finally fall in and give us an early lead, especially the way Stras threw tonight, that was the more important thing."
Madson closes door: The Braves put together a comeback attempt in the ninth inning after a double from Ozzie Albies and a walk to Nick Markakis against Solis. That prompted Martinez to call upon Madson from the bullpen. Even though Dansby Swanson broke up the shutout with an RBI double off the left-field wall, Madson bounced back to strike out Ryan Flaherty as the potential game-tying run and secure his first save of the season.
"There were definitely some different emotions going on, the ninth inning," Madson said. "But I looked up at the scoreboard and I saw 4-0, so that's when I just started attacking."
"No. I kind of know my strengths, and I know my weaknesses, too." -- Strasburg, on if he thought about trying to steal a base after Scherzer swiped one the previous night
"It's just fun to watch. Sometimes they make it look so easy, and it's not." -- Madson, on Scherzer and Strasburg
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Nationals have now scored in the first inning in eight of their first 11 games this season, and their 18 first-inning runs leads MLB.
Looking for redemption after his first start of the year, A.J. Cole will take the mound for another matchup with the Braves in Wednesday afternoon's series finale at 1:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. In Cole's season debut last week in Atlanta, he was tagged for 10 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
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