Braves-Nationals Preview


If the Atlanta Braves are to eventually overtake the Washington Nationals for the NL East lead, they'll likely need to start playing better in those head-to-head matchups.

Stephen Strasburg plans to make that task more difficult.

The right-hander takes the mound Friday night as Washington seeks a seventh victory in nine meetings with visiting Atlanta this season in the opener of a four-game set.

Atlanta (50-41) has surged to within 3 1/2 games of the Nationals after beating San Francisco 3-2 on Thursday for its eighth victory in 10 games.

Washington (53-37) fell 9-5 to the Mets later in the day, and the Braves could claim the division lead with a four-game sweep, which they haven't accomplished versus the Nationals franchise since Sept. 20-23, 1996, against the Montreal Expos.

Atlanta, which had lost two straight following a season-best seven-game winning streak, mustered only three hits, but two of those were homers from Freddie Freeman and David Ross.

"You lose two in a row after winning seven and it feels like you'll never win again,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

The Braves have hit .229 while dropping six of eight in 2012 to the Nationals, who have won nine of the last 11 matchups. Dan Uggla, though, is 7 for 13 with two homers and a pair of doubles lifetime off Strasburg, who is 2-1 with a 4.20 ERA in three starts versus Atlanta this season.

Strasburg (10-4, 2.66 ERA) ended a career-worst three-start skid by allowing six hits in six innings of Sunday's 4-0 win over Miami, escaping brief bouts of trouble and also adding an RBI single in the fifth inning.

He's 10 for 26 with a homer and four doubles this season.

"That's the kind of Strasburg I've grown to love,'' manager Davey Johnson said. "Even though he had two or three rough jams, he pitched out of them by basically making pitches with his fastball."

Strasburg, however, tied the shortest outing of his career when he gave up three runs and walked four in three innings of a 7-5 loss at Atlanta on June 30. He was forced to leave early and received multiple intravenous fluid treatments due to the city's record 106-degree heat.

It's only expected to be in the high 80s in the nation's capital as Strasburg looks to help Washington avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since June 24-25.

Ryan Zimmerman went 2 for 2 with a homer Thursday before being replaced by Mark DeRosa, and the third baseman is hitting .440 (11 for 25) and has gone deep three times since the All-Star break.

Ian Desmond singled as a pinch-hitter, and he'll return to the lineup Friday after not starting the last five games while battling a strained oblique.

"We fought back, even without our best guys out there, which is a good sign," Desmond told the team's official website. "We had some good at-bats coming down the stretch there."

Zimmerman is 3 for 21 lifetime against Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson, who is coming off one of his toughest outings of the season. The right-hander gave up six runs and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings of Atlanta's 8-7 win over the Mets on Saturday.

Hanson (10-5, 4.02) had a 3.32 ERA on June 15 that has steadily increased while he's gone 3-1 with a 5.87 ERA over his last five starts.

He allowed two runs in seven innings to beat Washington 3-2 on June 3.

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