Nationals return to division play vs. Braves (Jun 12, 2017)

BY AP • June 11, 2017

WASHINGTON -- It has been nearly three weeks since the Washington Nationals played a divisional opponent in the National League East.

Since May 23, the Nationals have faced three American League teams that they will see just once this year: the Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers.

Also during that time, Washington played three National League teams out of its division: the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.

A sense of familiarity will begin Monday night as the Nationals (38-24) will host the Atlanta Braves (27-35) in the first of a three-game series.

That could be a good thing after the Nationals were swept in three games at home over the weekend by the Rangers, making a rare trip to the nation's capital.

"It was a bad weekend," Washington manager Dusty Baker said Sunday night. "We've got to get rid of it, go get some rest tonight and come back against the Braves smoking tomorrow."

Right-hander Stephen Strasburg is slated to start Monday for the first-place Nationals, who hold a healthy lead in the division but still have bullpen issues that have lingered since spring training.

Strasburg (7-2, 2.80 ERA) has been stellar in recent outings against the new-look Braves, and that was not the case earlier in his career.

The former No. 1 overall draft choice is 6-1 with a 2.68 ERA in eight starts against the Braves since the start of the 2015 season.

Before that, he was 4-7 with a 4.24 ERA from 2010 to 2014 vs. Atlanta.

Current Atlanta hitters have an average of .285 (53-for-186) and seven homers against Strasburg.

Four of those homers are by first baseman Freddie Freeman, but the Atlanta slugger is injured and out for several weeks. Freeman is hitting .368 (14-for-38) against Strasburg.

Other regulars who have faced Strasburg often are Matt Kemp, who is 5-for-19 (.263) against him, and Nick Markakis (7-for-24, .292).

Strasburg pitched very well on Wednesday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw but was the hard-luck loser in a 2-1 setback.

Max Scherzer, another Washington ace, pitched well Sunday but came away with a loss as the Rangers won 5-1. The Washington bullpen continues to struggle, and closer Koda Glover went on the disabled list Sunday due to back problems.

"Well, it doesn't make it any easier, and it hasn't been easy so far, so why do you expect it to get easy now?" Baker said. "It's been very difficult, but we've got to do what we've got to do, mix and match and hope that the guys that we bring in do the job. One thing's for sure, we keep getting deep games like (Scherzer did Sunday), it makes it easier."

Atlanta's starter on Monday will be Mike Foltynewicz, who is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts against Washington in his career. He has gone 14 scoreless innings in his last two starts and has improved with better fastball control.

On Wednesday, Foltynewicz (4-5, 3.48 ERA) fired seven scoreless innings in a 14-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"He's making strides," Braves manager Brian Snitker said after that outing. "As sharp as he was (June 2 at Cincinnati), he built on that one and was able to work his way out of a couple of situations. He did a great job. I felt like when he cocked his arm, he had a pretty good idea where the ball was going."

The Braves lost 2-1 on Sunday to the visiting New York Mets, who took the final three games of the four-game series.



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