With his impending shutdown drawing near, Stephen Strasburg 's first appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals will likely be one of his last of the season.
Strasburg tries to rebound from one of the ugliest outings of his career Sunday as the Washington Nationals conclude a four-game set with the visiting Cardinals.
While many have questioned Washington's decision to shut Strasburg (15-6, 3.05 ERA) down with the club on the verge of its first playoff berth since 1981 when the franchise was located in Montreal, the NL East-leading Nationals (80-52) don't want to take any chances with their 24-year-old ace.
Strasburg, who's thrown 150 1-3 innings in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery during his 2010 rookie campaign, will probably make two or three more starts according to manager Davey Johnson.
"I'm the one that puts his name on the lineup card," Johnson said. "And it ain't happening after the innings limit."
Strasburg had compiled a 1.50 ERA in winning four consecutive outings before getting knocked around Tuesday in a 9-0 loss at Miami. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up a career-high seven runs - five earned - and nine hits over five innings.
"I'm sure there's not a pitcher in the history of baseball who has gone out there and done it every single time," said Strasburg, who leads the NL with 11.14 strikeouts per nine innings. "I struggled for pretty much the whole game. It's a learning experience for me."
A repeat performance from Strasburg, though, seems unlikely given his dominance during day games. He's gone 9-2 over 13 such starts while compiling a 2.19 ERA - almost two runs lower than his 3.89 mark at night.
Strasburg will be facing a Cardinals team that finally found its offense Saturday after being outscored 32-1 during a four-game losing streak. David Freese belted a two-run homer in the second inning then hit a go-ahead single in the ninth, helping St. Louis (72-61) to a 10-9 victory."It felt like a playoff game," said Freese, whose single off Drew Storen plated Allen Craig with the decisive run. "The atmosphere, the team we are playing against. They have 80 wins for a reason. We are battling. You are going to trade punches when you got two teams going at it. Today was fun."
The Cardinals now give the ball to Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.94), who had gone 8-3 with a 2.84 ERA over 12 starts from June 14-Aug. 17 before getting hit hard in each of his last two. The veteran right-hander allowed five runs in as many innings but earned the victory during a 13-5 win over Houston on Aug. 23, then surrendered a season-worst seven runs, 11 hits and four walks in five innings Tuesday during a 9-0 loss at Pittsburgh.
"I haven't been very good the last couple outings and I can't ask the offense to pick me up that big like they did last start," he said. "It's just a matter of figuring it out."
Westbrook was also tagged for seven runs during an 8-6 loss to Washington on April 20, 2011, lasting three innings in his only matchup in this series since joining St. Louis in 2010.
St. Louis activated Lance Berkman (right knee inflammation) from the 15-day disabled list Saturday, but the six-time All-Star didn't play. He's expected to initially be used in a pinch-hit role.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
|August 25, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Left wrist contusion|
|August 25, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Sprained ankle|
|August 21, 2012||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right hand injury|
|August 24, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore right ankle|
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
|August 01, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||60-Day DL||Strained lower back|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg allowed two hits over six scoreless innings, striking out nine before being pulled Sunday as the Washington Nationals beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3.
The NL East-leading Nationals took three of four from St. Louis and passed their 80-win total from last season.
Strasburg, rocked for seven runs last Tuesday at Miami, left with a 2-0 lead and a 2.94 ERA. He threw 97 pitches and wound up with a no-decision.
The 23-year-old Strasburg has struck out a league-leading 195 in 156 1-3 innings this season. The Nationals have repeatedly stated they intend on shutting him down in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010.
The Nationals have been vague about an innings limit, but the team sat Jordan Zimmermann at 161 1-3 innings last season in a similar situation.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said on Thursday that Strasburg is probably down to "two or three" starts, meaning the final one could come Sept. 7 at home against Miami or Sept. 12 at the New York Mets .
Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa produced two-out RBI singles in the seventh that lifted Washington. Kurt Suzuki homered and drove in two runs for the Nationals.
The Cardinals rallied in the seventh after Strasburg left with three hits against reliever Sean Burnett , including Daniel Descalso 's two-run homer.
Washington responded with four consecutive two-out singles against Lance Lynn (13-6). Desmond's flare to center scored pinch-runner Eury Perez with the go-ahead run. Espinosa had three of the Nationals' 13 hits.
Ryan Mattheus (2-3) pitched 1 1-3 innings, allowing a run on Tony Cruz 's RBI double in the eighth. Tyler Clippard , the worked the ninth for his 29th save.
Lynn pitched one inning, allowing two runs on four hits for the Cardinals, who have lost five of six while trying to hold off Pittsburgh for the final NL wild-card berth.
Facing the Cardinals for the first time, Strasburg gave up Matt Holliday 's two-out double in the first. The All-Star ace held St. Louis without another hit until Holliday's sixth-inning single.
Strasburg walked one overall. He fanned at least two hitters in four innings and regained the NL strikeout lead by whiffing St. Louis pitcher Jake Westbrook in the fifth.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman 's throwing error, a walk and a wild pitch put runners on the corners with one out in the fourth. Holliday attempted to score the game's first run on Bryan Anderson 's shallow fly ball to right, but Bryce Harper easily threw him out at the plate for the final out.
Usually in center, Harper shifted to right with Jayson Werth scratched from the lineup minutes before the first pitch.
Suzuki, acquired in a trade with Oakland last month, stroked his third homer on the season in the bottom half. In the sixth, he tacked on a third consecutive single against Westbrook, which scored Desmond and ended Westbrook's day.
Westbrook allowed two runs on nine hits with six strikeouts and one walk. He avoided his third loss in four starts when Descalso, the Cardinals number eight hitter, turned on a 3-1 pitch from Burnett for his fourth home run of the season.
NOTES: Strasburg also went 1 for 2. He is hitting .277. ... There was no reason provided for Werth's removal from the lineup. He left Saturday's game in the ninth inning with leg cramps. ... The Nationals open a four-game series Monday with Ross Detwiler facing Jeff Samardzija and the visiting Chicago Cubs . ... St. Louis returns home Monday and has Joe Kelly facing Mets starter Collin McHugh .