Nationals-Braves Preview

The Associated PressAugust 17, 2013

The last time he took the mound, Stephen Strasburg looked like a prodigy again.

He'll probably have to be sensational once more for Washington to have a chance of snapping its skid versus Atlanta.

Strasburg looks to build on his first career shutout and help the Nationals end their six-game slide against the Braves on Saturday night at Turner Field.

Justin Upton's walk-off homer in the 10th inning Friday gave the Braves (75-47) their 18th win in 20 games, extending their NL East lead on the Nationals (59-62) to 15 1/2 games.

"There's a lot of baseball to be played," said Upton, who leads the NL with seven home runs in August. "Our lead is pretty big right now, but crazier things have happened in baseball."

Upton is just 3 for 15 with five strikeouts against Strasburg (6-9, 2.83 ERA), who pushed past a bad bullpen session and a tweaked groin to go the distance for the first time in the majors on Sunday. He struck out 10, allowing just a walk and four hits in a 6-0 win over Philadelphia.

"Honestly, I didn't feel good at all. I didn't really have good command in the bullpen," said Strasburg, who only needed 99 pitches. "When that's happened in the past, I feel like I would just try to jam it down their throat and throw it as hard as I can. I kind of learned that really didn't get much accomplished."

Strasburg has a 2.37 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, but Sunday's was his first win.

Efficiency hasn't led to a drop in strikeouts. After averaging 9.06 strikeouts per nine innings through his first 18 starts in 2013, Strasburg has averaged 10.42 while lasting at least seven innings in his last five outings.

Strasburg has a 2.14 ERA in four starts against Atlanta this season, but he's 0-1. The Nationals have totaled 28 runs while going 3-11 in the season series.

While the Braves' Freddie Freeman is 4 for 6 with a homer this season off Strasburg, Chris Johnson, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward are a combined 1 for 24.

Opposing Strasburg will be another talented 25-year-old in Mike Minor (12-5, 2.87), who's 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his last seven starts. After allowing five total home runs in his last two June starts and first outing in July, he has allowed just one since - going 25 consecutive innings without one heading into Saturday.

Minor's most recent start was the worst of his impressive stretch. He gave up four runs and six hits over seven innings Sunday against Miami in a 9-4 win.

The left-hander has faced the Nationals just once this season, but walks have generally been an issue in previous meetings. He's walked 17 in 37 2-3 career innings versus Atlanta, a far cry from his 1.83 walks per nine innings rate in 2013 that's among the NL's best.

Minor's emergence has solidified the front-end of a Braves rotation that's missing Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, but Atlanta's situation at second base is becoming dire. The Braves found out Friday that Tyler Pastornicky would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL just days after putting Dan Uggla on the 15-day disabled list as he has corrective eye surgery.

Paul Janish and Phil Gosselin are the options in the interim.

"I'm almost positive (general manager) Frank (Wren) is out there looking through the waiver wire," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Three of the four times Bryce Harper has been hit by a pitch this season have come against the Braves, including twice Friday. On August 6, a Harper beaning led to both benches emptying.