Nationals' Strasburg takes a deep breath

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally
Ace shakes off troubles, hits first HR in victory over Orioles

The second inning of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Orioles was as ugly a frame as the Nationals have played this season.

There was a dropped fly ball, a passed ball, a late coverage at first base on an infield hit and an inexplicable walk to a struggling No. 8 hitter. But down three runs early and well on their way to a three-game sweep at the hands of their I-95 rivals, the Nats stiffened.

Stephen Strasburg retired the final 10 batters he faced and he and Jesus Flores hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to help lift their team to an eventual 9-3 victory.

"We're used to waking up around 11 or 12 o'clock," shortstop Ian Desmond joked about his team's sluggish start. "Throw a day game in there and you wake up at 8 [a.m.] Makes it a little more challenging, especially when we had a night game [Saturday]. I think it took everybody a little bit for their energy drinks to kick in."

It was the first career homer for Strasburg and the first for Flores since Aug. 18. Those homers came on the heels of a three-run third inning that tied the game. Strasburg started that rally with a single before rookie Bryce Harper delivered a two-run triple. Harper later scored on a fielder's choice ground-out by Desmond.

The Nats (24-17) salvaged the final game of the weekend series at Nationals Park before heading on a nine-game, 10-day road trip. A crowd of 41,918 watched Sunday's game, making the three-game total for this Battle of the Beltways interleague series 120,929.

Much like his start against San Diego on Tuesday, Strasburg was shaky early. He allowed two hits in the first inning, including an RBI single to Nick Markakis. An ugly dropped fly ball by Harper in the second -- he ventured far into left field from center, called off teammate Tyler Moore and then dropped the ball -- started a two-run inning for the Orioles. An infield ground out and then a single by Xavier Avery drove in those runs.

But Strasburg found himself. He escaped the second inning with a strikeout of J.J. Hardy -- the first of seven in a span of 10 batters. In all, Strasburg allowed one earned run, three total, on four hits with eight strikeouts to one walk. Nats manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg experienced right biceps soreness in the first inning and when the club found out he was removed from the game. He was examined by team doctor Wiemi Douoguih but is not expected to miss his next start.

"Biceps is fine. Just throwing a lot of pitches early and then we put up a lot of runs," Strasburg said. "Got a little tired. Got a little tight. But that's nothing different than any other outing. It's something that it's going to be like this the rest of the year. It's part of coming back from Tommy John, building up the innings, getting the stamina."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner