It came far too late to keep Washington’s season going beyond this weekend, but Stephen Strasburg has been brilliant in recent starts.
The Nationals right-hander will try to close out his injury-shortened campaign with another double-digit strikeout performance Thursday night against the Atlanta Braves.
Strasburg has totaled 50 strikeouts in 30 1-3 innings in his last four starts and gone 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA and 0.57 WHIP in his past three. He yielded one run and three hits in eight innings while fanning 13 in Saturday’s 2-1, 12-inning win over Philadelphia.
The Nationals (80-78) were officially eliminated from the postseason chase less than an hour before that win because of a New York Mets victory.
Strasburg (10-7, 3.63 ERA) will try to become the first NL pitcher with 10 or more strikeouts in five consecutive games since Randy Johnson did so in six straight in 2002. Another Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez, was the franchise’s last pitcher to pull off that feat in 1997.
Strasburg makes his 23rd start, his fewest since 2011, after enduring two stints on the disabled list for neck tightness and an oblique strain. He’s gone 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA in nine starts since returning from the latter injury Aug. 8.
"He’s getting better and better every time," shortstop Ian Desmond told MLB’s official website. "All three (of his) pitches are plus-plus pitches."
Strasburg has pitched 12 scoreless innings while striking out a combined 13 in back-to-back wins over the Braves (64-94) and went five in a 3-1 victory June 23 in his only matchup this season. He’ll face an Atlanta team that’s totaled four runs in the first two games in this series, but has won both.
Atlanta, 5-13 in the season series, will go for its first three-game sweep of the Nationals since April 11-13, 2014, with rookie Ryan Weber on the mound.
Weber (0-2, 5.91) was tagged for seven runs in two-plus innings in his fourth major league start, a 12-11 loss in Miami on Friday. He had a 3.26 ERA in his first three outings and yielded one run in seven innings in a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Sept. 19.
Bryce Harper will try to send Weber to another loss while ending a 3-for-26 slump. The NL MVP frontrunner is 0 for 11 in his last three games, beginning with Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia that featured his dugout scuffle with closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Harper’s 0-for-4 performance in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss gave him a .331 average and put him in a virtual tie with Miami’s Dee Gordon in the NL batting race.
Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman won’t be in the starting lineup for the rest of the season because of an ailing right wrist but can pinch-hit. Freeman is batting .429 with three homers in 28 at-bats against Strasburg, the best average among the 82 hitters who have faced him at least 11 times.
"It’s just one of those things that unfortunately got a little worse," Freeman said. "So, the plan is different than the one we had a couple days ago."
The Braves will seek to win six in a row at home for the first time since August 2013 and take their fifth in a row there over the Nationals. Atlanta hasn’t won five straight home games in one season against Washington since 2009.
Washington’s Yunel Escobar, among the NL leaders with a .318 average, is day to day because of spasms in his upper back that have ailed him since Sunday.