Strasburg, Nats grind out matinee victory

Strasburg, Nats grind out matinee victory

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals needed all the offense they could get during the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Marlins on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park. Washington collected nine hits and defeated Miami, 6-4.

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg started the game and quickly allowed a solo homer to Christian Yelich in the first. But in the home half of the inning, the Nationals forged a 3-1 lead against left-hander Justin Nicolino, thanks in part to three straight walks to start the game.

"I kind of was all over the place," Nicolino said of his first-inning struggles. "That's a good hitting lineup. You definitely don't want to make mistakes to them. But to walk three guys to start the game, that's even worse than making mistakes."

The score remained that way until the fifth, when Yelich made it a one-run game with a double to left. But Anthony Rendon gave Washington a two-run cushion with a single that drove in Michael Taylor in the Nationals' half of the inning.

An inning later, Miami made it a one-run game again against Strasburg, when Marcell Ozuna came home on a single by Jeff Mathis. But the Nationals answered right back in the sixth when Wilson Ramos hit a solo homer against right-hander Nick Wittgren to make it a 5-3 game.

Miami made it close in the seventh against Felipe Rivero, when Derek Dietrich scored on a single by Martin Prado.

The Nationals scored their last run of the game in the eighth inning. With Marlins reliever Jose Urena on the mound, Matt den Dekker scored all the way from first on a double by Taylor, who didn't get an RBI on the play because Ozuna made an error that allowed den Dekker to score.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nats score three in first: Washington collected only one hit in the first inning -- and it came on an RBI single by Jayson Werth. The other two runs came in on sacrifice flies by Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman.

Murphy's sacrifice fly to right

Although the Nationals collected nine hits, manager Dusty Baker believes the Nationals are still not jelling on offense. He is not happy that the team is not getting key hits with two outs. The Nationals ended up going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"We had runners on base a lot. We left the bases loaded two or three times," Baker said. "That two-out hit is still eluding us. We kept putting them out there. That's the key, to have as many chances as you can. One day, our offense is really going to start clicking. That day is going to come. But we are winning games."

Big day for Yelich: Yelich continued his excellent 2016 campaign, scorching a first-inning home run off Strasburg and adding an RBI double in the fifth. The home run was the outfielder's fifth of the season, leaving him only two short of his total for all of '15 and four off his career high, set in '14. Manager Don Mattingly said he expects Yelich's power to continue to grow. More > 

Yelich's solo home run

"I think it's just a matter of time," Mattingly said. "As he learns to firm up that front side, he's going to hit a bunch of them. And once he does that, it's going to be a whole different animal."

Strasburg goes six: Strasburg made his first start after signing his seven-year, $175 million contract, and he was decent -- going six innings and allowing three runs on five hits. Strasburg ended up with his sixth victory of the season.

Strasburg acknowledged it was a grind on the mound. At one point, his curveball, slider and changeup disappeared. So he had to rely heavily on his fastball.

"It was not my best. I'm going to learn from it," Strasburg said. "The guys played great behind me. It was a good win for us. The other pitches -- curveball, changeup, even slider -- they kind of just showed up and they disappeared for a little bit. There is going to be games like that. But I just wanted to go out there and give it everything I had and keep it close."

Nicolino wild in short start: Entering Saturday, Nicolino had walked only six batters in 19 1/3 innings. But against the Nationals, the lefty issued five free passes in 4 2/3 innings -- a key reason Washington managed four runs off him. Nicolino was wild from the start, walking the first three batters of the game as part of a three-run Nationals first inning. Overall, he threw only 46 strikes out of 86 pitches on the afternoon.

"That's not really characteristic of him," Mattingly said. "He's usually a guy who's in the strike zone making guys swing the bat."

QUOTABLE
"I don't think I've played in puddles since, like, American Legion." -- Mattingly, on rainy conditions late in the game

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Strasburg became the first pitcher in Nationals history to start the season 6-0. Pedro Martinez holds the franchise record by going 8-0 to begin the 1997 season.

REPLAY REVIEW
The umpires called a crew-chief review in the sixth inning to determine if Ramos hit a home run into the left-center-field seats. It appeared a fan stuck out his glove to grab the ball. But after reviewing the play for two minutes, the home run was confirmed.

Umpires review Ramos' home run

WHAT'S NEXT
Marlins: For the second game of Saturday's doubleheader, the Marlins will call on righty Kendry Flores, who will make his 2016 debut at 7:05 p.m. ET. Flores, Miami's fifth-best prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, allowed seven runs in 12 2/3 Major League innings last season.

Nationals: Right-hander Tanner Roark will pitch Game 2 of the doubleheader against Miami. He has pitched six or more innings in six of his seven starts this season.

Watch every out-of-market regular season game live on MLB.TV.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats

Alex Putterman is an associate reporter for MLB.com and covered the Marlins on Saturday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.