PHILADELPHIA -- Stephen Strasburg left reason to be concerned after his first start back from the disabled list, when his velocity dipped and he was hit hard by the Phillies last week. He responded with an encouraging outing in the Nationals' 5-3 victory in Monday night's opener at Citizens Bank
PHILADELPHIA -- Stephen Strasburg left reason to be concerned after his first start back from the disabled list, when his velocity dipped and he was hit hard by the Phillies last week. He responded with an encouraging outing in the Nationals' 5-3 victory in Monday night's opener at Citizens Bank Park, beating the Phillies with six innings of two-run ball that helped ease some of those concerns.
Although Strasburg never dialed his fastball up into the upper 90s on Monday, he held his velocity in the mid 90s throughout his 99-pitch outing. Paired with a sharp arsenal of offspeed pitches, it kept the Phillies off balance.
"It was progress," Strasburg said.
Progress, after troubling signs were on display last time. Strasburg chalked up that poor outing -- in which he allowed five runs on seven hits in four innings -- to a lack of stamina, especially considering he had returned to the mound without the benefit of a Minor League rehab assignment.
On Monday, he was much more effective. Strasburg worked around three walks and five hits to limit the damage to a pair of runs in the third. He remained sharp as the game went on, striking out the side in the fifth and working around a pair of singles in the sixth inning.
"The rust was off a little bit," Matt Wieters said. "He was able to make the corrections a little easier than his last start, which is big. Any time you're coming back, being able to make the adjustment on the fly is big and he was able to do that tonight."
The Nats took advantage of some defensive miscues from the Phillies to score a pair of unearned runs in the fourth inning, and Wieters added a solo home run to pick up another victory from their division rivals, whom they have beaten in three of their past four games.
Even though Strasburg left the mound with a lead, sealing wins has become a juggling act for manager Dave Martinez. The team placed Kelvin Herrera on the DL, perhaps for the rest of the season, earlier in the day, and considering Ryan Madson had just returned, Martinez did not want to place him directly into a save situation. So, the skipper turned to Justin Miller to protect a two-run lead in the ninth inning and the righty pitched a perfect frame to notch his first save since 2015, the only other one of his career.
"I try not to let it affect me," Miller said. "If you throw the sixth inning, you try to do the same thing in the ninth inning. I try to like tell myself it is the same as always."
It sealed the win for Strasburg, on a night he showed some encouraging signs of progress toward returning to his dominant form to close out the season.
"I think it's just more reps for him, but he was very content that he went out there and made some good pitches," Martinez said. "His breaking ball was good. His changeup was good. He gave us exactly what we needed."
• All five Nationals starting pitchers recorded quality outings in this most recent turn through the rotation, posting a 1.69 ERA and holding opponents to a .182 batting average in their past five starts.
• Wieters has now hit safely in each of his last seven starts, batting .346 with two homers and six RBIs during that span.
HE SAID IT
"He's a constant professional. He's a pro, he really is. And he's done things that he never imagined. And he gave us two innings, three innings. Came in in big situations. High leverage, like tonight, and got big outs for us. So I'm really proud of what he's done and he battled his way back. And that just tells you what kind of guy he really is." -- Martinez, on Miller earning his second career save
"There's so many little things in the game that hitters try and pick up and stuff and you have to always look at certain tendencies you do and try not to do it. Because they're always looking for an advantage, trying to eliminate pitches." -- Strasburg, on adjusting after his last start
Two of the frontrunners for the National League Cy Young Award will face off in a rematch of their meeting last Thursday at Nationals Park when Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.13 ERA) squares off against Aaron Nola (15-3, 2.13). Nola outdueled Scherzer in their last matchup by tossing eight scoreless innings to beat the Nats, 2-0. First pitch Tuesday is at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.