WASHINGTON -- In the first complete game of his career, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg blanked the Phillies on just four hits, striking out 10 as the Nats swept the Phillies, 6-0, on Sunday evening at Nationals Park.
All the Nationals want to do is build momentum that will carry them for the rest of the season. They are starting to show signs of it as they swept the three-game series, their first since early July when they swept the Padres in Washington. The Nationals, who improved to 57-60, remain eight games behind the Reds in the National League Wild Card race.
"The way we beat [the Phillies] was good pitching and good hitting, and we haven't been able to get the combination together," manager Davey Johnson said. "But I think everybody is swinging the bats. That's key. Of course, [when you have] great pitching, you look pretty good. You are never as good as you look when you win and you are never as bad as look when you when you lose. We have been looking pretty bad lately. We just need to keep it going. It ain't over until it's over."
Strasburg picked up his first victory since July 7 against the Padres. It was one of Strasburg's best games, as he didn't allow a runner to get into scoring position.
In the ninth, with the crowd chanting, "Let's go, Strasburg," Ryan Zimmerman made a diving catch on a line drive by Kevin Frandsen to end the game. A relieved Strasburg tipped his cap to Zimmerman.
"Stephen obviously threw a great game," Zimmerman said. "It has been fun to watch him learn, progress as a pitcher. I think he is starting to do some things that he has been proud of. It's going to be fun to continue to watch him develop."
One would have never known what Strasburg accomplished if one looked at his face. He was stoic when talking about his first complete game.
"I felt good," Strasburg said. "It's something you try to do every time out. I learned how to go out there and get outs with less pitches. … I knew it was going to be a matter of time where I was going to have one of these games where they hit it right to where we were playing and the defense made great plays.
"It's definitely different at the big league level. You are definitely a lot more strained as the game goes on. Like I said, the defense played great. The offense scored some runs. I was just able to go out there and pitch to contact."
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins noticed that Strasburg threw more changeups than normal.
"He always seems to throw that pitch pretty good against us," Rollins said. "But I don't know, he was his normal self. His velocity was good, throwing his curveball for strikes and using his changeup when he needed it."
At first, Strasburg didn't know how well he would do. He didn't feel right during his bullpen session and then, in the second inning, he tweaked his groin because his mechanics were out of whack.
Usually, when Strasburg doesn't have good stuff, he will try his best to blow hitters away with his blazing fastball. On Sunday, he relied on his defense behind him and threw 99 pitches.
"I didn't get much accomplished [trying to blow hitters away]. It kind of helped me take a step back and just really focus on being nice and easy and hit my spots," he said.
Strasburg is not going to rest on his laurels, knowing he has a long way to go. He would like to go out with the same mind-set in his next outing and see if he can pitch another complete game.
"I want to see how far I go in the next game," Strasburg said.
Strasburg received early run support as the Nationals took a 1-0 lead against Kyle Kendrick in the first inning. Jayson Werth continued his hot hitting by poking a single to center field, scoring Denard Span.
Three innings later, Ian Desmond scored on a single by Wilson Ramos, while Adam LaRoche touched home plate on an infield single by Span.
The Nationals had the bases loaded with no outs in the fifth, when Ramos hit a ground ball to second baseman Chase Utley, whose throwing error allowed Werth and Desmond to score.
"The whole play was kind of startling," Werth said. "It was a dying quail. I got a pretty good read on it. I looked and saw the ball was coming home. I knew there was going to be a play, so I slid in. I saw the ball there and heard the crowd's reaction and I turn around and there is Desi's sliding in. It was a pretty play for sure."
LaRoche then scored on a single by Steve Lombardozzi to make it 6-0.
"I sense, overall as a team, we are little more aggressive -- top to bottom," Johnson said. That has been always the key here. The guy that is most aggressive -- he prides himself on taking a lot of pitches -- is Jayson Werth. He sees first pitches and smoked them. He has been a shining example how we need to hit. He has been very impressive."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com 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.