Potentially primed for the longest outing of his career, Strasburg takes on fellow ace Johnny Cueto and the Reds in Sunday's finale of a wild series between reigning division champions.
The innings and pitch limits are supposedly off the 24-year-old Strasburg (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who was shut down in early September and had to watch as Washington lost its NL division series to St. Louis in five games. Cueto also had a bad playoff experience, sitting out the division series except for eight pitches in Game 1 before injuring a side muscle, and the Reds would blow a two-game lead to San Francisco.
While Cueto came back to throw seven strong innings on opening day, Strasburg did the same but was removed after 80 pitches. Cueto threw 105 - a total Strasburg has been allowed to reach just five times in 46 major-league starts.
"If it wasn't opening day and the first start of the year, it would have been a different story," Strasburg said when asked if he could have pitched longer, reiterating the reason manager Davey Johnson gave for pulling him.
The right-hander, who has never gone past seven innings, limited Miami to three hits and did not walk a batter in the 2-0 victory. Strasburg is known as a strikeout pitcher but had only three Monday and may purposely be quieting that reputation, pitching more to contact to go deeper into games.
"If he wants to be the workhorse that he is, he's going to have to pitch more games like this," shortstop Ian Desmond said.
Desmond helped even this series at one game apiece Saturday with a homer in the 11th inning that gave Washington a 7-6 victory. It was the first RBI of the season for Desmond, who made two errors earlier in the game which led to Cincinnati runs.
Harper also had a homer, catcher Wilson Ramos hit two and the Nationals (4-1) totaled five. The Reds (3-2) went deep six times in a 15-0 win Friday.
"It's been two crazy games," said Washington outfielder Jayson Werth, who was 3 for 5 with a home run Saturday.
Harper, who homered twice during Strasburg's outing, has four multihit efforts in five games. The 20-year-old center fielder's five RBIs lead the team, as does his .381 average among players with at least 10 at-bats.
He's never faced Cueto (0-0, 1.29), a 19-game winner last season. The right-hander allowed a run and three hits with nine strikeouts in a 3-1, 13-inning loss to the Angels on Monday.
Cueto did not face the Nationals in 2012 but has been solid in his last three starts against them, going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA.
Strasburg won his only outing versus Cincinnati during his 2010 rookie season.
"He's a good one," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website. "There are other guys you'd pick before him to face."
Jay Bruce singled twice in that matchup with Strasburg and has four hits in this series, but he remains homerless after hitting 34 last season.
"I feel fine. It's early," Bruce said.
Shin-Soo Choo homered for the third straight game Saturday and was hit by a pitch for the fourth time. Choo shares the team lead for home runs with Todd Frazier, who is 9 for 13 with three homers and seven RBIs over the last three games.
Five of these teams' last 10 meetings have gone to extra innings.
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