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Harper, Strasburg lead Nationals in opener

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WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals' cover boys delivered on Opening Day, as Bryce Harper hit solo homers in his first two at bats and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg scattered three hits through seven innings in a 2-0 victory Monday against the Miami Marlins.

The game drew 45,274 fans, the second-biggest regular-season paid crowd in the history of Nationals Park. And the red-clad fans were not disappointed as former first overall draft picks Harper and Strasburg delivered at the plate and in the field.

"I went up there and had good at bats," Harper said of the two homers off Ricky Nolasco (0-1). "The first (homer) was very cool. It was a great moment and a great experience. I tried to react. He carved me up last year."

Strasburg (1-0) said, "Bryce is awesome. He plays hard every day."

Strasburg added he was aided by nifty defensive play by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning to get out of a jam.

"It was an amazing play and one (Zimmerman) has done time and again," he said.

Washington reliever Tyler Clippard came on in the eighth in place of Strasburg, who threw just 80 pitches, and gave up a leadoff walk to Donovan Solano before retiring the next three batters.

"I am glad they are on our team," Clippard said of Harper and Strasburg.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond said of Harper, "He is a special player. He showed that today.

In the ninth, new Nationals pitcher Rafael Soriano, the closer for the New York Yankees last season, retired Juan Pierre, Chris Coghlan (strike out) and Giancarlo Stanton (strikeout looking) to seal the win.

The Marlins, who lost two starting pitchers to the disabled list on Sunday, began the season under first-year manager Redmond.

Miami began the day with the youngest pitching staff in the National League at 26.62 years, while a baserunning miscue cost it a possible run against Strasburg.

"Two bad pitches there for home runs and that was the difference in the game or otherwise we would still be playing," Redmond said. "We had some opportunities to score."

Miami starter Nolasco went six innings and allowed three hits and two earned runs with two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 48 for strikes, before giving way to Chad Qualls in the seventh.

"The kid had a good spring. He was locked in," Nolasco said of Harper. "He capitalized on those pitches. The first was a 1-0 curve. I threw it right down the middle, belt high. I kept the ball down for the most part."

Nolasco was outmatched by Strasburg, who retired 16 batters in a row until Stanton hit a one-out double in the seventh.

Placido Polanco followed with a hard grounder up the middle for a single that shortstop Ian Desmond could not make a play on to put runners on first and third with one out.

Rob Brantly then flew out to Harper and the left fielder threw a strike to Wilson Ramos at the plate.

Stanton did not try to score but the Nationals caught Polanco off first. Ramos threw the ball to first baseman Adam LaRoche, who threw to second baseman Danny Espinosa, whose relay to Ramos retired Stanton for the third out at the plate.

"He got caught in no man's land there," Redmond said of Polanco. "That happens. Harper made a great throw."

Strasburg had three strikeouts with no walks in seven innings and also had two sacrifice bunts before he gave way to Clippard.

"Strasburg did his job," said Redmond, a former catcher. "He pounded the strike zone. He made his pitches."

Harper, in his first Opening Day at bat, launched a line drive homer to right on an off-speed pitch from Nolasco to make it 1-0 in the last of the first inning.

He homered again in his next at bat, crushing a 3-2 pitch from Nolasco to right to make it 2-0 in the fourth. Harper hit 22 homers for the Nationals last season after he was promoted from the minor leagues on April 28, 2012.

Strasburg entered this season under no pitch limits, which was not the case last year when he was shut down after going 15-6 in 159 1/3 innings.

After allowing the leadoff single to Pierre, right-hander Strasburg retired the next 15 hitters through five innings with eight groundouts and just two strikeouts.

Pierre led off the game with a single to center against Strasburg, but Coghlan grounded out to first as speedy Pierre headed to second.

Stanton, with 11 career homers at Nationals Park, flew out to center as Pierre took third. Then third baseman Zimmerman made a diving stop to his left and threw out Polanco to end the threat.

Notes: Harper has three multi-homer games, two against the Marlins. ... Stanton entered Opening Day with a .341 career average against the Nationals and had hit a homer in 11 of his past 20 games at Nationals Park, with three games in a row prior to Monday. ... Strasburg started Opening Day last season at Wrigley Field in Chicago. He was 2-1 in five starts last year against the Marlins. ... Coghlan, the 2009 National Rookie of the Year, was born in nearby Gaithersburg, Md. ... Harper is the first reigning Rookie of the Year to homer on Opening Day the following season since Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006.
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