Harper, Stras do it all as Nats gain ground

Harper, Stras do it all as Nats gain ground

PHILADELPHIA -- How can one describe the game that Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park in a 4-0 win over the Phillies? Dominant. He looked like the Strasburg who was nearly unhittable in his first big league game against the Pirates in 2010.

Strasburg pitched eight scoreless innings, didn't allow a baserunner to reach scoring position and struck out a career-high-tying 14 batters. It marked the third time this season Strasburg struck 10 or more batters. He allowed one hit, and that came in the fifth inning, when Cody Asche led off and singled to right field.

"He was really good tonight," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "The biggest thing was he established his low fastball. He didn't use his changeup until about the fourth inning. When he establishes his low fastball, there are a lot of swings-and-misses [30 in all] on the changeup. Innings four through eight, he used the changeup a lot. He got a lot of guys to swing and miss at it."

Strasburg would not have won his ninth game of the season if not for Bryce Harper, who continues to show that he is the front-runner to be the National League MVP. He drove in all four runs, homered twice and went 3-for-3 with a walk.

By winning Tuesday's game, the Nationals gained ground on the first-place Mets, who lost to the Marlins, 9-3. Washington is now 8 1/2 games behind New York in the National League East.

"That's probably one of the best, if not the best-pitched, games I've seen all year," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said about Strasburg.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Power of Harper: Harper put himself in the Nationals' record books by hitting his 38th and 39th homers of the season. Harper broke Adam Dunn's record for most home runs by a Nationals/Expos left-handed hitter. Dunn hit 38 home runs in 2009 and 2010.

Is Harper the NL MVP?

"The progression that he has made is nice to see," Williams said. "He certainly has confidence and has taken the ball other other way -- one [home run] to center and one to left. He has great power that way. He has patience, he is getting good pitches to hit and he is not missing them." More >

Buchanan bounces back: It has been a rough season for David Buchanan, who carried a 9.11 ERA into his start against the Nationals. But Buchanan, who had a 22.00 ERA in his last three starts, allowed five hits, two runs, two walks and struck out five in six innings for one of his better starts of the season. He needs to pitch like this in his two remaining starts to re-enter the conversation as a serious candidate to make the 2016 rotation coming out of Spring Training.

Buchanan's solid outing

"You want to make sure you finish on a strong note," Buchanan said. "Had a lot of talking to do, and thinking to do, over this past week, so today I wanted to go out there with confidence and poise and go out there and compete." More >

Strasburg shows he's healthy: After coming back from back tightness, Strasburg has allowed three runs in 15 1/3 innings and struck out 27 batters in his past two starts.

Strasburg strikes out 14 in win

"I think health is huge for anybody," Strasburg said. "I've had a lot of guys battle through injuries. It's a good learning process for me. [Even back in Spring Training when I had the left ankle injury], it helps me have a better understanding that I need to have my body to go out … and execute pitches." More >

Bullpen woes: As much as the Phillies' rotation has struggled this season, the bullpen has not fared much better, entering the night 11th in the National League in ERA. Phillies left-hander Adam Loewen allowed a two-run homer to Harper in the eighth to effectively put the game out of reach for Philadelphia.

Harper's second homer

QUOTABLE
"At this point, we have a bunch of games left. I don't think he is thinking about it. I would certainly not want him to start thinking about it. I would tell him to, 'Stay with your approach, keep doing what you are doing. At the end of the day, you might have a shot.'" -- Williams, on Harper winning the 2015 NL MVP

"It's the best I've seen in a couple of years. I think most guys would agree with me. I don't know, Nolan Ryan? A lot of fastballs, combined with changeup and curveball. Pretty good." -- Phillies second baseman Andres Blanco, on Strasburg

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Strasburg is the first pitcher to allow one hit and strike out 14 Phillies in a game since the Mets' Tom Seaver allowed one hit and struck out 15 on May 15, 1970. Since 1900, only three pitchers before Strasburg had accomplished that feat against the Phillies: Seaver, the Mets' Nolan Ryan on April 18, 1970 (one hit, 15 strikeouts), and Milwaukee's Warren Spahn on Sept. 16, 1960 (one hit, 15 strikeouts).

WHAT'S NEXT
Nationals: Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will pitch the series finale, which starts at 7:05 p.m. ET. Gonzalez is coming off a short outing of just 87 pitches in 5 1/3 innings on Friday vs. Miami. However, the lefty has been solid in his past two starts, allowing just one earned run over 11 1/3 innings.

Phillies: The Phillies are looking for a cleanup hitter with Ryan Howard sidelined indefinitely with a bruised left knee. They used utility infielder Blanco in the No. 4 hole Tuesday night. It remains to be seen who will hit fourth in Wednesday night's series finale against the Nationals, when Alec Asher will take the mound.

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Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All theTime. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.