Harper, Strasburg power Nationals on Opening Day
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It went better.
It took Strasburg only 80 pitches to mow down the Miami Marlins through seven shutout innings Monday. And it took NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, playing his first Opening Day, only two swings to earn his first curtain call of the season as he hit a pair of frozen ropes for solo home runs. Harper, 20, became the youngest player in major-league history to hit two homers in an Opening Day game.
"You couldn't draw it up any better," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said after watching new closer and former Yankee Rafael Soriano pitch a perfect ninth to nail down a 2-0 victory. The game, which was played before a record regular-season crowd of 45,274 at Nationals Park, was over in only 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Seeing Strasburg healthy and dominant after an 0-3 spring training was welcome news for the Nationals, who shut down the righthander after Tommy John surgery in 2011 and 1591/3 innings in 2012.
After a leadoff single by Juan Pierre, Strasburg set down 19 consecutive Marlins before Giancarlo Stanton's one-out double in the seventh. He exited without allowing a walk, striking out three and giving up three hits.
"First game of the season, I wasn't going to push the envelope," said Johnson, who has yet to push Strasburg beyond seven innings and turned to Tyler Clippard to pitch the eighth.
Strasburg, 24, looked to have more in the tank.
"His pitch count was still low in the seventh inning. I think he did a great job of attacking them and forcing the issue," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who prevented the Marlins from scoring in the first with a diving stop of Placido Polanco's one-hopper.
"When Stephen's throwing the ball that well, you want to make a play to help him out," Zimmerman said. "He's putting pressure on [opponents to swing early]. Obviously, when you get behind with his stuff, you're in trouble . . . I think he's still learning how to pitch, which is scary."
He got no argument from Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, who pitched six innings, permitting one hit other than Harper's line drives into the rightfield seats.
Said Nolasco, "[Strasburg's] fastball alone can dominate a lineup -- and he's got such a good breaking ball . . . [Harper] is a complete player. Even on his second [homer], I thought it was a decent enough pitch. He just stayed down, went down and got it."
Harper, who turned around a curveball in the first inning and a slider leading off the fourth, said his first Opening Day was a thrill.
"To be able to acknowledge the crowd and have some fun with them was a very special moment," he said. "Being able to share that experience with my family was pretty special."