If the Washington Nationals are going to begin closing the gap on the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves, they'll need consistency from their ace.
Stephen Strasburg has certainly delivered that over his past three starts.
Strasburg attempts to turn in another strong performance when the sputtering Nationals open a three-game series with the Braves on Friday night.
Repeating as NL East champion isn't proving easy for Washington (27-27), which finds itself 5 1/2 games behind Atlanta (32-21).
Consistent dominance from Strasburg (3-5, 2.49 ERA) could help the Nationals tighten the race, as they've dropped four of six after a 2-0 loss at Baltimore on Thursday.
The right-hander has gone 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last three starts after posting an 0-5 record and 3.61 ERA during the previous seven outings. He has allowed three earned runs in his past four games.
"My fastball command has gotten a little better as the season has gone on, and I've gotten more comfortable out of the stretch," Strasburg told the team's official website. "It's all about making adjustments. Sometimes you're not going to start the year where you want to be, but it's all about how you end the season."
Strasburg was sharp Sunday, allowing a run on an eighth-inning balk and striking out nine in a 6-1 win over Philadelphia.
In two starts versus Atlanta this year, he's gone 0-1 while allowing four runs - two earned - in 12 innings with 15 strikeouts. He received three total runs of support.
The Braves are coming off their most impressive offensive display of the season, pounding out 16 hits in an 11-3 victory over Toronto. The outburst came after manager Fredi Gonzalez shuffled the lineup, sitting the struggling trio of Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton, who are all hitting below .200.
Ramiro Pena, Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis capitalized on the opportunity, combining for eight hits, seven runs and six RBIs - four from Pena.
"We'll see," Gonzalez said of staying with the changes. "The guys played well. One thing you always want to do is put your best team out there."
Uggla and Heyward may be back in the lineup due in large part to their success against Strasburg. Uggla is 11 for 23 with two homers off him, while Heyward is 7 for 14.
Gattis, however, hit a two-run shot off Strasburg in a 3-1 win April 13.
Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.67) has gone 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his last six starts after compiling a 7.31 ERA in his first three outings.
The rookie right-hander has been particularly impressive over his last two starts, going 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA.
He didn't get a decision Sunday in another impressive performance, giving up one run in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-2 road win over the New York Mets.
"He's getting better and he's more in the zone," catcher Gerald Laird told the team's official website. "He's getting confidence in pitching to halves of the plate. I'm not afraid to call certain pitches that I was timid to call earlier in the year."
Teheran is 0-0 with a 4.76 ERA in two starts against the Nationals this season. He allowed two runs and a season-high 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 3-2 home win over Washington on April 29.