Nationals-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

Stephen Strasburg was considered the best pitching prospect in years when the Washington Nationals drafted him first overall in 2009, but the Atlanta Braves also had high hopes for the pitcher they took six picks later.

Mike Minor hasn't come close to meeting those expectations this year.

Strasburg gets his second chance at becoming a 10-game winner Saturday as he faces the struggling Minor for the second time at Turner Field, where NL East-leading Washington is 4-0 this year.

Despite 2010 Tommy John surgery, Strasburg (9-2, 2.60 ERA) has already blossomed into the ace the Nationals (44-31) hoped he'd be. He had won six straight starts - two against the Braves - before making his first appearance at Colorado on Monday, allowing three runs in six innings of a 4-2 defeat.

"I went out there and pounded the strike zone," said Strasburg, who has 118 strikeouts in 90 innings for the majors' best ratio. "It seemed they were just hitting it right beyond our gloves, basically. It's baseball."

Plenty of balls hit beyond the fence are a reason Minor (3-6, 6.14) owns the worst ERA among major league qualifiers. The seventh overall pick and first left-hander chosen in 2009 allowed three more homers Monday at Boston, giving him 18 this season at an NL-high rate of 2.01 per nine innings.

After allowing seven runs - four earned - in 4 2-3 innings of a 9-4 loss to the Red Sox, Minor may have been reassured when manager Fredi Gonzalez said he had no plans to change his starting rotation.

"The last thing you want is to create panic," Gonzalez told the Braves' official website Tuesday. "You're going to go through some growing pains. You've got to stay patient with these young pitchers and keep going."

Neither Strasburg nor Minor was particularly sharp May 26 in Atlanta, with each allowing four runs in five innings. Strasburg walked a season-high four but got the win because the Nationals quickly got to the Braves' bullpen in their 8-4 victory.

The right-hander dominated Atlanta (40-36) at home a week later, striking out nine and walking none in seven innings of a 2-0 victory. Dan Uggla struck out twice and grounded into a double play against Strasburg in that game after getting six hits - two homers - in their first eight matchups.

Uggla is 6 for 55 (.109) with one RBI and 24 strikeouts since his last homer June 9, and was held out of the starting lineup for the first time this year Friday as the Braves lost 5-4 - their eighth defeat in their last 11 home games.

"You can call it a mental day. You can call it a day off. You can call it whatever you want," Uggla said. "But anytime (Gonzalez) feels like you need to have one of these days, it's not a good thing."

His second base counterpart Danny Espinosa took Minor deep last month. He's part of a Washington lineup that has totaled 38 runs and 64 hits in its last four games.

The first three of those came at Coors Field, but the Nationals had 15 hits Friday in Atlanta. Michael Morse had four of those, including the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning, and he is 12 for 19 with six RBIs in the last four contests.

"He's been looking better and better every day," manager Davey Johnson said of Morse, who missed the season's first two months with a back injury. "It's nice to have him back. ... We'll probably move him back into the cleanup spot."

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