Phillies-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

Dealt twice in July over the past three seasons, Cliff Lee isn't changing addresses after the 2012 trade deadline. Two-thirds of the Philadelphia Phillies' starting outfield is.

After unloading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino earlier Tuesday following four disappointing months, the visiting Phillies send Lee to the hill to oppose Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals in the opener of this three-game set.

The Phillies (45-57) haven't been in last place this late in a season in nearly 10 years, and after being swept in Atlanta over the weekend - they're now 16 1/2 games behind first-place Washington and 13 out in the wild-card race - general manager Ruben Amaro decided to make some moves.

Amaro first sent center fielder and pending free agent Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two pitchers, then shipped Pence to San Francisco for outfielder Nate Schierholtz and two minor leaguers.

Victorino and Pence have made a combined four All-Star appearances over the past four seasons and combined for 26 homers and 99 RBIs in 2012. One-time top prospect Domonic Brown was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley following the moves.

Washington (61-40), meanwhile, was quiet at the deadline, passing on making a move to improve its chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since the Montreal Expos made the franchise's only playoff appearance in 1981.

The Nationals haven't looked like they need any sort of help lately, winning eight of nine after Sunday's 11-10, 11-inning victory at Milwaukee. Michael Morse hit a tying two-run homer in the ninth, then drove in a pair of runs with a double in the 11th.

"It's crazy because you never know what this game has in store until the last out,'' Morse said.

Strasburg (11-4, 2.76 ERA) will look to keep Washington rolling.

The right-hander had his longest outing in more than a month Wednesday, allowing one run and four hits in seven innings of a 5-2 win over the New York Mets. Manager Davey Johnson was critical of his ace after he gave up four runs in 5 1-3 innings in Washington's loss to Atlanta on July 20.

Strasburg responded with one of his more dominant outings, striking out 11.

"Once the lights are on and you're facing another team, you want to go out there to make your stuff really dirty," Strasburg said. "It's something where I think when I take a step back and relax and let it happen instead of forcing the issue it helps out."

Strasburg wasn't at his best against the Phillies on May 4 when he allowed three runs in six innings, but the Nationals escaped with a 4-3 victory in 11 innings in the teams' first meeting of the season.

Washington has won 13 of the last 17 matchups - a run that started with a 10-2 win over Lee on May 31, 2011.

Staying put for now after being shipped away at the 2009 and '10 deadlines - once to Philadelphia - Lee (1-6, 3.95) is coming off a rough outing. He tied career highs by allowing 12 hits and four homers while surrendering six runs over seven innings of Philadelphia's 7-6 win over Milwaukee last Tuesday.

The left-hander had gone 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA in his previous three outings. He's lost his last two starts with a 5.84 ERA versus Washington.

Nats shortstop Danny Espinosa, hitting .315 since the All-Star break, is 7 for 10 with three homers against Lee.