What promised to be an epic pitching duel between two undefeated pitchers in Justin Nicolino (2.79 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (2.76 ERA) got off to an unexpected start when Christian Yelich went deep off Strasburg for a solo shot over center field, and Nicolino walked his first two batters before welcoming Bryce Harper to the plate with no outs.
Harper didn't make Nicolino pay like he did Kyle Barraclough last night when he lifted a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh, but he still walked and loaded the bases. Daniel Murphy tied the game with a monster sacrifice fly that dropped a few feet short of a grand slam, and after Ryan Zimmerman added another sacrifice fly, Nicolino finally got out of the inning with 28 pitches.
In the second, both Marcell Ozuna and Adeiny Hechavarria struck out, and Nicolino settled down to get through his second with the score still 3-1.
Nicolino then helped himself in the top of the third by earning his first career walk, but Derek Dietrich's chopper past Strasburg turned into a double play, and despite Martin Prado reaching first on a slow tapper, Yelich couldn't muster any additional home-run magic. In the bottom of the third, Nicolino got Harper to pop out in his next at-bat, and pitched well enough to prevent the Nationals from extending their lead.
Strasburg got his fourth and fifth strikeouts in the fourth inning while Nicolino, depsite zero strike-outs, ended the fourth on ten pitches. In the fifth inning, the Fish inched closer when Yelich lined one off the wall in left field for a two-out RBI-double, and even though Giancarlo Stanton has had success against Strasburg, he grounded out and left runners at second and third. But the Nats would regain that two-run lead when Anthony Rendon scored Michael Taylor off a single to left. And with two outs but the bases loaded, Bryan Morris replaced Nicolino, who finished having walked five and struck out one while giving up four runs and five hits on 86 pitches.
In the sixth, the Fish again inched closer when Jeff Mathis drove Ozuna in on a single to left, and amidst sudden heavy wind and rain the Nats again regained their two-run lead when Wilson Ramos homered a solo shot off Nick Wittgren. Wittgren, who made his Major League debut just under a month ago, then loaded the bases with two outs, but he then popped Murphy up and saved the inning.
As the storm continued to threaten play in the top of the seventh, Prado scored Dietrich against reliever Felipe Rivero. On 104 pitches, Strasburg struck out seven, walked three, and gave up three runs on five hits.
In the bottom of the eighth Ozuna bobbled a grounder, which enabled Matt den Dekker to score and once again the Nationals extended their lead to two.
Hero of the Game: As much as it annoys me to say it...Stephen Strasburg, who is now 6-0 with a 2.95 ERA.
The Fish won't have to wait long to take another stab at their division foes when recently promoted Kendry Flores takes the mound against Tanner Roark at 7:10. Roark's two worst performances of the season have been against the Marlins.