WASHINGTON -- It was a goal for Stephen Strasburg at the beginning of Spring Training to finish the regular season healthy. Not only has he accomplished that goal, but he also ended his slate in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches of his career.
Strasburg overwhelmed the Pirates on Friday night at Nationals Park to guide Washington to a 6-1 victory. He retired the first 14 batters in order to carry a perfect game into the fifth until a single from Gregory Polanco bounced off the glove of Ryan Zimmerman. Strasburg regrouped to shut the Pirates down for 7 2/3 innings, surrendering two hits and striking out eight.
"He's been doing it for a while. He's a craftsman," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He has the ability to execute four very, very good Major League pitches, and he was throwing nothing but strikes. … We've seen him good. He's a good pitcher."
There has been no more dominant pitcher in the second half than Strasburg, who finishes with a 0.86 ERA since the All-Star break, the best in baseball.
"When he's on, he's really on," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "This compares to some of the great runs that I've seen."
Strasburg outdueled Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, who was charged with three runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts. The loss wraps an odd season for Cole, who made 33 starts, threw 203 innings and struck out 196 batters but gave up 31 home runs with a 4.26 ERA.
"There's a lot of good work," Cole said. "I just really feel good about giving my team an opportunity to try to win a ballgame or at least stay in a ballgame, keep the balance of the rotation and the balance of the bullpen. That's ultimately what you get paid to do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Zim extends Nats' lead: Despite Strasburg's early dominance, the Nationals were still clinging to a one-run lead until the sixth, when they broke out for three runs and knocked Cole out of the game. Daniel Murphy singled home Trea Turner before Zimmerman launched a two-run home run to center field, his first of the night, to provide Washington with some insurance. These were all positive signs for Washington as Murphy has begun to swing the bat better lately, Turner reached base for his eighth consecutive plate appearance (dating back to Wednesday in Philadelphia) and Zimmerman continued his career year with four extra-base hits.
"Nice to have some days and have everyone trending upward, health-wise," Zimmerman said. "And kind of have the whole lineup back in there, too. It's nice. It was good. Every team goes through injuries throughout the year, but to see that lineup and everyone out there, it was fun." More >
Making short work: Strasburg's dominance on Friday night can best be encapsulated by a three-pitch sixth inning, which began by hitting Sean Rodriguez with a pitch. Then, Strasburg made short work of the next two hitters, getting Cole to pop up his bunt attempt back to Strasburg on the next pitch before Strasburg induced a double play from Adam Frazier to end the inning.
"You try to put down a bunt, it doesn't happen. That's two pitches, and you've got one out. Then you're in a situation where you allow your guy to swing or take a pitch," Hurdle said. "It's not like he's wild. Frazier has the ability to barrel a ball. … He hit a ball hard. It was a ground ball he turned into two."
This start completed a career year for Strasburg in 2017, in which he made 28 starts, threw 175 1/3 innings and posted a career-low 2.52 ERA with 204 strikeouts.
"You put in a lot of work in the offseason and stuff, and you just try to listen to your arm the whole year, try not to tweak stuff too much," Strasburg said about making it through the end of the year healthy. "It's got its ups and downs, but you got to focus on what you can control."
"Two double plays off him, I would have never guessed that going into the game. I just made some good pitches to him, and sometimes we got fortunate. … He looks like Bryce Harper. He's definitely still a threat. … He's going to be in a good spot for them. He's going to be just fine."-- Cole, on Harper, who finished 0-for-4 and hit into two double plays in his first two at-bats
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Marte went 2-for-4, recording his fifth multi-hit game and extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He is batting .500 (16-for-32) over his past 10 games with a double, a triple, a home run, seven RBIs and five stolen bases.
Harper played for seven innings in his third game back from the disabled list as the Nationals continue to increase his workload. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, but this was a positive step if the Nats want to play Harper for all nine innings before the start of the postseason. Baker acknowledged before the game that they are running out of time for him to play a full game with just two remaining in the regular season.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Before Zimmerman homered in the sixth inning, Anthony Rendon tried to take third base as Pirates catcher Elias Diaz reached for a changeup that sailed down and too far away from Rendon. Rendon hustled to third, but Diaz -- known for his strong arm behind the plate -- fired the ball to third baseman David Freese, who collided with Rendon as he slid. Rendon was initially ruled safe, but the Pirates challenged the call. The ruling was overturned after a review, and Rendon was ruled out. Zimmerman homered on the next pitch.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Jameson Taillon will make the final start of his first full Major League season, a trying year in which he was diagnosed with and returned from testicular cancer, as the Pirates return to Nationals Park on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Looking to finish strong after a second-half slump, Taillon has allowed three runs in 10 innings over his past two starts. He will start against Max Scherzer, who no-hit the Pirates in Washington two years ago.
Nationals: Scherzer will make his final case in a bid for the National League Cy Young Award when he makes his final start of the season Saturday night against the Pirates at 7:05 p.m. ET. He owns the lowest ERA of his career, and will reach 200 innings after he throws 2 2/3 frames.