WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Stephen Strasburg had his best start of the season, throwing 6 2/3 solid innings and helping the Nationals beat the Marlins, 7-1, at Nationals Park on Thursday afternoon. Washington completed the three-game sweep and has won seven out of its first nine games to start the season.
Ian Desmond put the game out of reach with a grand slam in a five-run eighth inning. Strasburg allowed three hits and struck out 12 batters. It marked the 13th time in his career that he struck out 10 batters or more in a game. The Nationals needed Strasburg to go deep because the bullpen was taxed after Wednesday's 10-7 victory over Miami. In that game, manager Matt Williams had to go to the bullpen in the second inning.
"Strasburg pitched really well," Williams said. "He used his fastball and he kept his pitch count down today. That's just an example of strike one."
After allowing a leadoff single to Christian Yelich, Strasburg retired the next 14 hitters he faced before Adeiny Hechavarria reached base on an error by Desmond at shortstop.
Strasburg allowed his only run in the seventh inning, when Marcell Ozuna homered over the left-field wall, his second of the season. Strasburg left the game after walking Jeff Mathis two batters later. Left-hander Jerry Blevins was able to get the final out of the inning by getting Reed Johnson to ground out. In all, Miami struck out 17 times in the game, and that tied a Nationals record for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game since baseball returned to D.C.
It appeared the Marlins had a tough time figuring out Strasburg because of the shadows on the field, according to manager Mike Redmond.
"I know guys were having a tough time as soon as the shadows crept in," Redmond said. "I'm sure that was part of it. But Strasburg is tough. He's a good pitcher. He knows how to pitch. He definitely did his job to keep us off-balance. Obviously, we struck out a lot. He did his job."
After lasting 4 1/3 innings against the Braves last Saturday, Strasburg told Desmond that he was going to do things differently against Miami. The righty realized that he wasn't going to be perfect or try to trick hitters. Instead, Strasburg let it go with his fastball and relied a lot on his changeup.
"I was trying to let all of my pitches go, trust my defense. I tried to keep it close as long as I could," Strasburg said.
Strasburg felt he could have pitched past the seventh, but Williams went to his bullpen to finish the game.
"I was definitely seeing the finish line, but you have to come out when skip goes out there and takes the ball out of your hands," Strasburg said.
It was Jayson Werth who played a big role in Strasburg winning his first game of the season. With right-hander Tom Koehler on the mound and no score in the third inning, Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch and hit the ball over the left-center-field wall. It was Werth's second home run in as many games.
"I'm feeling good. I got the green light from [Williams]," Werth said. "I got a pitch that was elevated, I put a pretty good swing on it. It's good to get us out front there."
It was reliever Aaron Barrett who protected the one-run lead. In the eighth inning with two outs, Barrett replaced Blevins and faced Giancarlo Stanton, who represented the tying run. It took six pitches before Stanton struck out to end the inning.
Barrett is a rookie, but Williams is relying on the 26-year-old right-hander late in games.
"Barrett went after [Stanton] and he beat him, which is good," Desmond said. "It was good for him. It's a little confidence builder, something to drive back on in the future."
Washington added insurance runs in the eighth inning off right-hander Arquimedes Caminero. Anthony Rendon scored the third Nats run of the game on a bases-loaded walk to Bryce Harper. Desmond followed with his grand slam over the left-center-field wall.
"I was scuffling all day. ... I really wanted to get one there," Desmond said. "I was kind of sped up, constantly making adjustments the last few days. I got the barrel to that one."
The Nationals now play an important three-game series against the Braves. Although it's early, Werth said the Nationals have to win as many games as they can against Atlanta.
"They are all important," Werth said. "You play 162 games, and it seems like every year, it comes down to the last couple of games. You can't take any of these games for granted for sure. It is early, but against the division rival -- a top notch team like the Braves -- you have to come out and play your best ball."
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.