Stras dominates as Nats' lead hits seven games

Stras dominates as Nats' lead hits seven games

Stras dominates as Nats' lead hits seven games
WASHINGTON -- There is only one word to describe Stephen Strasburg's performance on Tuesday night at Nationals Park: Dominating. He struck out 10 batters in six innings, helping the Nationals defeat the Braves, 4-1.

The Nationals increased their National League East Division lead to seven games over the second-place Braves, and they will look to sweep the series on Wednesday night.

"Obviously, it's something we don't take for granted," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We've been playing well all year. Hopefully, it continues, and we play good, clean baseball."

Strasburg (15-5) had a great outing despite dealing with a 51-minute rain delay after 2 2/3 innings. After the delay, Strasburg was back on the mound and struck out six more batters, including the side in the fifth inning.

"He was on with everything, fastball, and he threw some changeups that had almost split-finger-type, forkball-type action on it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said about Strasburg. "He was good. He was difficult to try and square up."

Strasburg is on an innings limit after having Tommy John surgery in late 2010, which raised the possibility that manager Davey Johnson would have taken his right-hander out of the game following the delay.

Johnson said afterward that he was going to take Strasburg out of the game if the delay reached an hour. But it didn't get to that point. It was the second time Strasburg went back on the mound following a rain delay. It helped that he spent some of the down time warming up in the batting cage.

"There was no reason to be surprised. I stayed warm and they said [the rain] was passing through. It was really a small cell that came over Nats Park, and I was ready to go," Strasburg said.

Said Johnson, "He was throwing the heck out of the ball. He had the luxury of being able to throw a couple of times in our batting cage, so I felt like he was still pretty hot. Obviously, the way he threw in the fifth, he was still throwing pretty well. [Dan] Uggla was going to be his last hitter [in the sixth inning.]"

The only time Strasburg was in any kind of trouble occurred in the sixth inning, when Martin Prado -- the first Atlanta batter to get past second base -- scored on a sacrifice fly by Freddie Freeman.

"The adrenaline kind of died down and I went out there and felt like I was really catching my groove," Strasburg said.

The game could be Strasburg's biggest start of the season, since he is scheduled to pitch between 160 and 180 innings and will not participate in the postseason. He is now up to 145 1/3 innings.

Strasburg was asked if Tuesday's game was like his postseason.

"I don't view [it like that] at all," he said. "It's the regular season. I'm going to keep pitching. I'm in it with these guys for the long run. Nobody [in the organization] talks to me about it. So, obviously, I can either scour the internet or watch ... what is said on TV, or just keep pitching or watch the Golf Channel."

By the time he left the game, the Nationals had the lead against Braves left-hander Paul Maholm. In the second inning, Desmond hit a solo homer to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

But it was Jesus Flores who had the biggest blow, a three-run homer off Maholm in the fifth inning to give Washington a four-run lead.

"It was big. I knew going in that Flores hits [Maholm] pretty good," Johnson said. "I think he had two home runs in six at-bats and was hitting .500. The game plan was to let [Kurt] Suzuki catch Strasburg, but I wanted Flo to catch him just because he had had some success against Maholm in the past. That was a big, big blow. Big blow."

The Braves made it interesting in the ninth inning, but closer Tyler Clippard managed to pick up his 28th save of the season. The first two runners he faced reached base. Jason Heyward singled to start off the inning, while Freeman reached base on a fielding error by Clippard. But Heyward and Freeman were left stranded when Clippard retired the next three batters.

"I try to take every outing and approach it the same way," Clippard said. "I don't feel any different. Nerves are good. For me, it's the same, but you can definitely sense the energy in the stadium."

The Nationals are now 31 games over .500 with a 77-46 record.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.