Less than a month into the season, the Washington Nationals have conditioned themselves, in the toughest moments, to expect victory. Desmond ended the Nationals’ 3-2 triumph over the Miami Marlins with a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning that gave Washington 10 wins in its last 12 games.
Even without the entire projected middle of their order, the Nationals clinched their fifth series victory of the season and joined the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers as the first major league teams to reach 12 wins.
But with his second two-run, ninth-inning collapse in 10 days, Lidge torpedoed Strasburg’s shot at earning his third victory with his six scoreless innings, a performance that lowered his ERA to 1.08. Afterward, Manager Davey Johnson vowed to stick with a ninth-inning time share between Lidge and Henry Rodriguez.
The team improved its record in one-run games to 6-2. “I didn’t see any letdown on the ballclub,” Johnson said. “We hung in there.”
The Nationals won with a lineup that included veterans Mark DeRosa and Chad Tracy, signed as bench players, hitting third and fourth. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman sat with mild right shoulder inflammation, first baseman Adam LaRoche had a day off and outfielder Michael Morse entered Day 10 of his six-week shutdown.
The Nationals’ starter gives the team a chance to win almost every game, no matter who is backing him. On Saturday, Johnson sent out Strasburg, the ace who has spent the season’s opening month taking his place among the best pitchers in baseball.
In less than a month, Strasburg has answered any questions about how he would pitch in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. In four starts this year, all Nationals wins, Strasburg is 2-0 with 25 strikeouts and six walks over 25 innings.
Saturday, Strasburg matched Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez pitch for pitch, the zeros mounting for both teams until the sixth inning. Strasburg allowed four hits and a walk while striking out six, five on his curveball.
In the bullpen before his second start in New York, Strasburg made an adjustment with his curve. He needed it Saturday as the Marlins hacked at fastballs early. Thirty-four of Strasburg’s 94 pitches were off-speed.
Strasburg tried to ignore the score as the 0-0 tie continued. “It’s only a matter of time to where the bats are going to break loose,” he said.
In the sixth, Desmond broke the deadlock. He annihilated Sanchez’s 2-0 hanging cutter, smashing it roughly 10 rows behind the visitor’s bullpen in left field.
Desmond entered the year as a question mark — could he lock down the leadoff spot and assert himself, in his third season, as an everyday shortstop? Less than a month into the season, Desmond has been perhaps the Nationals’ most valuable position player. He’s hitting .294 and playing shortstop at a Gold Glove level.