Nationals-Braves Preview

The last time he took the mound, Stephen Strasburg looked like a

prodigy again.

He’ll probably have to be sensational once more for Washington

to have a chance of snapping its skid versus Atlanta.

Strasburg looks to build on his first career shutout and help

the Nationals end their six-game slide against the Braves on

Saturday night at Turner Field.

Justin Upton’s walk-off homer in the 10th inning Friday gave the

Braves (75-47) their 18th win in 20 games, extending their NL East

lead on the Nationals (59-62) to 15 1/2 games.

“There’s a lot of baseball to be played,” said Upton, who leads

the NL with seven home runs in August. “Our lead is pretty big

right now, but crazier things have happened in baseball.”

Upton is just 3 for 15 with five strikeouts against Strasburg

(6-9, 2.83 ERA), who pushed past a bad bullpen session and a

tweaked groin to go the distance for the first time in the majors

on Sunday. He struck out 10, allowing just a walk and four hits in

a 6-0 win over Philadelphia.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel good at all. I didn’t really have good

command in the bullpen,” said Strasburg, who only needed 99

pitches. “When that’s happened in the past, I feel like I would

just try to jam it down their throat and throw it as hard as I can.

I kind of learned that really didn’t get much accomplished.”

Strasburg has a 2.37 ERA in five starts since the All-Star

break, but Sunday’s was his first win.

Efficiency hasn’t led to a drop in strikeouts. After averaging

9.06 strikeouts per nine innings through his first 18 starts in

2013, Strasburg has averaged 10.42 while lasting at least seven

innings in his last five outings.

Strasburg has a 2.14 ERA in four starts against Atlanta this

season, but he’s 0-1. The Nationals have totaled 28 runs while

going 3-11 in the season series.

While the Braves’ Freddie Freeman is 4 for 6 with a homer this

season off Strasburg, Chris Johnson, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward

are a combined 1 for 24.

Opposing Strasburg will be another talented 25-year-old in Mike

Minor (12-5, 2.87), who’s 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his last seven

starts. After allowing five total home runs in his last two June

starts and first outing in July, he has allowed just one since –

going 25 consecutive innings without one heading into Saturday.

Minor’s most recent start was the worst of his impressive

stretch. He gave up four runs and six hits over seven innings

Sunday against Miami in a 9-4 win.

The left-hander has faced the Nationals just once this season,

but walks have generally been an issue in previous meetings. He’s

walked 17 in 37 2-3 career innings versus Atlanta, a far cry from

his 1.83 walks per nine innings rate in 2013 that’s among the NL’s

best.

Minor’s emergence has solidified the front-end of a Braves

rotation that’s missing Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, but Atlanta’s

situation at second base is becoming dire. The Braves found out

Friday that Tyler Pastornicky would miss the rest of the season

with a torn ACL just days after putting Dan Uggla on the 15-day

disabled list as he has corrective eye surgery.

Paul Janish and Phil Gosselin are the options in the

interim.

“I’m almost positive (general manager) Frank (Wren) is out there

looking through the waiver wire,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Three of the four times Bryce Harper has been hit by a pitch

this season have come against the Braves, including twice Friday.

On August 6, a Harper beaning led to both benches emptying.