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."
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|June 06, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained right index finger|
|May 30, 2012||Carlos Maldonado||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|June 17, 2012||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 16, 2012||Brandon Beachy||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right elbow soreness|
|June 13, 2012||Freddie Freeman||Day-to-Day||Left thumb discomfort|
|June 12, 2012||Eric O'Flaherty||Day-to-Day||Left elbow soreness|
|June 09, 2012||Tim Hudson||Day-to-Day||Bone spurs in left ankle|
|June 02, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
ATLANTA (AP) -- On Atlanta's hottest day on record, Mike Minor did enough to cool off Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals .
"He did, under tough conditions," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think we took a step forward with him today. He competed his butt off today."
Mike Minor won for just the second time in 12 starts and Atlanta overcame 106-degree heat to beat the Nationals 7-5 on Saturday.
The National Weather Service reported that the temperature was one degree hotter than the previous high from 1980.
"I think today 80-some pitches might equal about 140 the way the weather was," Gonzalez said. "For (Minor's) psyche ad his confidence, I think we took a step forward today. He was a bulldog today, didn't give it up."
Strasburg (9-3) left after just three innings because of weather-related issues and had three intravenous fluid treatments. He didn't return to begin the fourth, tying for the shortest outing of his 33-start career.
Braves officials reported no major health problems among the announced crowd of 26,491. The team credited eight free water stations at Turner Field with helping fans cool off.
Strasburg allowed two hits, three runs and four walks. Throwing 36 of his 67 pitches for strikes, Strasburg struck out four to reach 122, most in the majors.
Strasburg took extra time between pitches and walked slowly between innings. He hit an RBI single and left trailing 3-2 after the Braves' three-run third.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson came out of the dugout after the third to tell home plate umpire Marvin Hudson that Strasburg was leaving as Chien-Ming Wang jogged in from the bullpen.
"Pretty scary, and he wasn't talking too good," Johnson said. "I found out later he got a little dizzy out on the mound. The problem was that he was totally dehydrated. I think the doctor gave him, you know, three transfusions of saline, and he still wasn't going to the bathroom."
The Nationals, who had won 12 of Strasburg's 15 previous starts, trailed after Strasburg gave up an RBI double to Jason Heyward , Freddie Freeman 's sacrifice fly and Dan Uggla 's RBI double.
Atlanta had lost four of six and dropped 16 of 26 to Washington at home dating to October 2009, but the Braves scored three runs in the fourth and one in the fifth off Wang to take a 7-2 lead.
Strasburg lost consecutive starts for the first time since June 2010, when Kansas City and Atlanta beat him in the fourth and fifth starts of his career. His previous shortest outing was Sept. 11, 2011, when he received no-decision at home against Houston - the second start he made after returning from elbow surgery on Sept. 3, 2010.
Minor (4-6) had lost his last two starts, allowing eight earned runs and four homers at the New York Yankees and Boston. The left-hander was pulled for Kris Medlen with no out in the sixth and runners on second and third.
"It's just an up and down year for me," Minor said. "I'm just trying to do my best every time I go out there and try to give the team a chance to win and try to do my job at the plate. Luckily, today I got a bunt down (in the fourth). That's been a struggle for me, too."
Medlen gave up RBI singles to Tyler Moore and Jesus Flores as the Nationals cut the lead to 7-4.
After the Nationals made it 7-5 in the seventh on Adam LaRoche 's RBI double, Chad Durbin replaced Medlen and walked two before stranding the bases loaded on a grounder by Flores.
Craig Kimbrel earned his 23rd save and converted his 15th straight opportunity by retiring Ryan Zimmerman on a groundout and striking out Michael Morse and LaRoche. Kimbrel was coming off a rare loss in a non-save situation Thursday against Arizona that ended his 17-game scoreless streak.
Washington led 1-0 in the first on Zimmerman's RBI groundout.
Strasburg helped himself with an RBI single in the second after a double by LaRoche.
In the third, Strasburg walked Michael Bourn and Martin Prado before Heyward doubled for Atlanta's first hit on Strasburg's 61st pitch.
Minor stranded the bases loaded in the third when Ian Desmond grounded into a double play and then retired six of the next seven batters.
In the fourth, Wang gave up Juan Francisco 's RBI double, Bourn's RBI double and Prado's sacrifice fly. In the fifth, Andrelton Simmons ' RBI single made it 7-2.
For Minor, it was strange to see Strasburg struggle. The two pitchers got to know each other in 2009 during the major league draft when Washington took Strasburg No. 1 overall and the Braves picked Minor at No. 7.
"He's got top-of-the-line stuff," Minor said. "He's like Kimbrel being a starter, with a change-up. He's just a dominant pitcher. For him to go down today and get brought out early, it helped us out (getting to) their bullpen."
Notes: Strasburg is 1-2 with a 6.28 ERA in three career starts at Turner Field. ... Minor's last win was June 7 at Miami. ... Simmons had three hits. ... Bourn stole two bases, giving him 22 this year.