Astros-Nationals Preview


The Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg has picked right up where he left off last season. Unfortunately for the Houston Astros' Kyle Weiland, it appears he has as well.

Strasburg seeks another strong start Monday night when he opposes Weiland in the opener of a four-game set, looking to get Washington back on track after its five-game winning streak was snapped.

Strasburg (1-0, 0.69 ERA) has pitched like his dominant self through two starts this season, a continuation of his results from the end of 2011, when he missed most of the year following elbow surgery. He posted a 1.50 ERA in five starts last September and has given up one run over 13 innings in 2012.

Strasburg pitched six innings of two-hit ball to defeat Johan Santana and the New York Mets 4-0 on Wednesday. He struck out nine while throwing a career-high 108 pitches.

"I'm going to handle him just like he is perfectly healthy," manager Davey Johnson said of Strasburg, expected to be limited to 160 innings this season. "There was plenty left in the tank there."

The 23-year-old right-hander, who will be making his 2012 home debut, has not won in his last six starts in Washington. Strasburg has been noticeably better on the road in his career, going 5-1 with a 1.74 ERA there and 2-3 with a 2.78 ERA at home.

He's made one start against Houston, a three-inning stint Sept. 11 in which he allowed one run and three hits with four strikeouts and no walks in his second game back from surgery. The Nationals went on to win that contest 8-2, forging a split of the six-game season series with the Astros.

The Nationals (7-3) will look to Strasburg to help them bounce back from an 8-5, 11-inning loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Washington erased a 5-0, fourth-inning deficit but couldn't complete the four-game home sweep.

"We've won every series. I think that's our main goal - especially at home," said reliever Tyler Clippard, who surrendered Joey Votto's winning two-run double.

While Strasburg has been outstanding so far, Weiland's season debut looked about the same as his five starts as a rookie in 2011. The right-hander, 0-3 with an 8.72 ERA as a starter with Boston last year, gave up four runs and eight hits - two homers - in five innings of a 6-4 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday.

"As the starter, you're supposed to get to the sixth, seventh inning and save your bullpen," Weiland said.

Weiland, still seeking his first career win, has not faced Washington.

Houston (4-5) lost for the fourth time in five games Sunday, 5-4 in 11 innings at Miami. J.A. Happ turned in a solid effort with two runs allowed in six innings, but Astros starters have posted a 5.88 ERA in the last five contests after recording a 1.71 ERA during the team's 3-1 start.

Washington has been powered offensively by Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. Werth went 2 for 4 on Sunday to extend his hitting streak to seven games, going 14 for 30 in that span, while LaRoche drove in two runs to give him 10 RBIs on the season. He's batting .341.

Desmond went 3 for 5 on Sunday to raise his average to .354. He's recorded at least one hit in all but two games in 2012.

Nationals reliever Craig Stammen pitched four scoreless innings in three games against the Reds over the weekend, striking out nine while going 2-0.