Apr 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals’ late-inning rallies, capped by Denard Span’s walk-off sac fly, were the featured storyline of yesterday’s 3-2 victory over the Cardinals. But there was plenty more worth analyzing from the game, which included all sorts of twists and turns and notable developments.
Let’s dig deeper into some of those other angles…
— Stephen Strasburg didn’t figure into the decision, but that didn’t mean the right-hander’s performance was insignificant. He might well have put forth his best start of the season, all things taken into consideration.
Strasburg’s final pitching line — two runs, five hits allowed over six innings — barely scratch the surface. He was electric throughout, displaying excellent fastball command, increased velocity (95-to-97 mph) and a deadly combination of changeups and curveballs that helped produce nine strikeouts.
This came on the heels of a dreadful start for Strasburg in Miami, one in which he was tagged for six early runs and never made it to the fifth inning. The biggest difference between that start and this one: He seemed to throw his pitches with more conviction, especially early on, and he abandoned his new-found slider altogether.
Strasburg bristled when asked why he didn’t throw one slider among his 90 total pitches, saying only: “I felt good with my other stuff today.” But it wouldn’t be surprising if pitching coach Steve McCatty suggested that alteration, leaving Strasburg to simply go out and dominate with the three pitches that got him here in the first place.
— If you were looking for more Bryce Harper drama, you didn’t get it. Though there were a couple of moments late in which Harper could have done something dramatic, he ultimately just played a solid ballgame, doing his job and not doing anything to cause a stir.
Returning to the lineup 24 hours after he was benched by manager Matt Williams for failing to run out a routine grounder, Harper went 1-for-4 with a walk. He grounded out in a big sixth-inning at-bat against lefty Randy Choate but delivered a clutch, opposite-field single off another southpaw, Kevin Siegrist, two innings later with the game tied.
Harper chose that moment to display his hustle, swiping second base for his first steal of the season. And he was in position to race home with the go-ahead run had one of his teammates been able to drive him in later in the inning.
Earlier in the day, Williams met with Harper and the two hashed things out after Saturday’s much-discussed benching.
“Just sat with him for a couple minutes at his locker and told him I’m confident in him and proud of him and he was going to have an impact today, which he did,” the manager said. “He had an impact getting a hit, stealing a base and giving us another opportunity. Made some nice plays in the outfield. Did well.”
Said Harper: “It was great to get back out there and play and be part of a win.”
He’ll be right back in the spotlight tonight, with the Angels coming to town and the obvious Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout storyline taking center stage.
— The winning run Sunday was scored by Danny Espinosa, who had himself another impressive day at the plate. Espinosa went 3-for-5, with all three hits coming from the left side of the plate. He’s now hitting a robust .324 left-handed this season, more than 100 points better than his career batting average prior to 2014.
Espinosa’s turnaround from his disastrous 2013 continues to impress everyone around the Nationals, but he’s trying not to get caught up in why he’s been so much better at the plate.
“I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to get a good pitch to hit. I’m not going up there saying: ‘I feel so good they’re going to give into me.’ I don’t feel like that. I’m just going up there and trying to take every at-bat the same way.”
Regardless of the reason, the Nationals recognize how much work Espinosa has done to overcome the struggles that earned him a long-term ticket back to Class AAA last season.
“I’m happy for him, because as we spoke about in spring, I’ve been that guy,” Williams said. “So I know the dedication that it takes to work back and be the player he wants to be. And so far, he’s been really good. His approach is good, his intensity is good, his attitude’s fantastic and he loves to play. So I’m happy for him.”
— A stat that may surprise you: The Nationals have actually scored more unearned runs (13) than they’ve allowed (12) this season.
— Over the last five days, the Nats have won games started by Jose Fernandez, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller. Said Jayson Werth: “You can hang your hat on that.”
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