Nationals-Indians Preview


After letting his back heal up over the last two weeks, the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg is ready to return to the mound.

Strasburg tries to win a fifth consecutive interleague start Sunday as the visiting Nationals conclude a three-game set against the Cleveland Indians.

Strasburg (3-5, 2.54 ERA) had gone 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA over a three-start stretch before exiting his last one after two innings due to a strained muscle in his back May 31. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list six days later but is scheduled to come off when first eligible Sunday.

"(The back) feels good. Threw some good pitches, spotted the fastball, do what I need to do and get a move on, throw a bullpen and hopefully be ready to go," he told MLB's official website after throwing a simulated game Tuesday. "I feel the strength has really stayed there, even though I missed a couple starts."

Strasburg was later cleared to return following Thursday's bullpen session at Coors Field.

"He's never satisfied. He didn't have the pinpoint control that he expects out there," manager Davey Johnson said of Strasburg, who isn't expected to be on a strict pitch limit. "I think he attributes it more to the light air. Steve's always a perfectionist."

Strasburg won all four of his interleague starts last year, improving to 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA over seven career meetings against AL opponents. He's allowed one or two earned runs in each of those outings while striking out 66 in 42 1-3 innings.

Strasburg's only appearance versus Cleveland (33-34) came in his second career start June 13, 2010. He overcame a career-worst five walks to allow one run and two hits while striking out eight over 5 1-3 innings in a 9-4 road victory.

After a 2-1 walkoff loss in Friday's series opener, the Nationals (34-33) bounced back in a big way with Saturday's 7-6 win, their fifth in seven games. Washington hit a season high-tying five homers, none bigger than the first of rookie Anthony Rendon's career, a go-ahead shot in the ninth inning.

"I guess it's not a bad one to get on the board with," said Rendon, who finished 3 for 5 with two runs scored. "I don't even know how to explain it."

The former highly-touted prospect went deep two pitches after his foul popup dropped in between Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, one of a season-worst three Indians' errors.

"That shouldn't happen to us but it did and it cost us the game," Swisher said. "It was a little miscommunication. It was something we handled already."

Cleveland fell to 5-24 when committing at least two errors since the start of last season, including 0-7 this year. Despite Saturday's loss, the Indians are 17-7 over their last 24 home games.

Cleveland now turns to Corey Kluber (4-4, 4.08), who's gone 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 37 strikeouts in his last six starts spanning 35 innings. The right-hander turned in one of his best performances Tuesday, allowing one run and six hits over a career-high eight innings during a 5-2 win at Texas.

"He's getting better right in front of our eyes," manager Terry Francona said. "For him to go out there and kind of shoulder that responsibility, was, (we're) really proud of him."

Mired in an 0-for-18 slump, Denard Span is the only Nationals player with any experience against Kluber, going 2 for 6 with two doubles.