Though the Washington Nationals decided to give Stephen Strasburg one more start this season in next Wednesday's season finale with Florida, tonight is the right-hander's last home start of 2011, and Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson told reporters this afternoon he's excited to see it happen. The weather will once again play a big role in deciding whether the 23-year-old '09 no. 1 overall pick gets to take the hill this evening. But weather permitting, the Nationals' manager said, "I'm anxious to see him pitch. I think with his three previous starts I think he's primed to go out there and let it out and I think it's a great matchup. It's a big game for the Atlanta Braves and Stephen Strasburg is feeling pretty good."
"I said earlier I don't have a pitch count on him," Johnson continued, "But I'm just going to let him throw until I think he's had enough." Strasburg's last start was the Nats' last loss, though he received no decision. Washington is in the midst of a five-game win streak. The Nats have won ten of their last twelve to climb within three games of .500 and within five wins of matching the franchise's highest season win total of 81. The Nationals' manager likes what he's seen. "Coming out of New York, sweeping them," Davey Johnson said, "and sweeping the Phillies, those are the clubs we've got to beat."
The Nationals took four in a row in Philadelphia to take the season series with the Phillies, 10-8. A four-game road sweep of the Mets gave Washington a 10-8 edge in the season series with New York. The Braves hold an 8-7 lead over the Nats with three left to play this weekend before Washington finishes up the 2011 schedule with three in Florida against the Marlins, who are 10-5 against the Nationals this season.
"This club is maturing," Davey Johnson said of the team he's managed to a 36-41 record since taking over for Jim Riggleman. "I'm real proud," Johnson continued, "Young guys are doing the things that they're capable of doing and veterans are coming around, it's fun to watch." Though he said he hopes the Nats and Braves get to play tonight, Johnson hinted that the weather won't alter the plans to have Strasburg start the first game of the series.
"I'm turning the page," Johnson explained, "As far as I'm concerned he's healthy and it would be like a regular season game. Obviously they have the same problem with [Tim] Hudson, he had a similar injury and they're in a pennant race, it's the last thing they want, to start and stop, it would be devastating for them." The Braves currently hold a 2.0 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. They're 4-6 in their last 10 and in danger of losing a WIld Card birth that just a month ago seemed assured. It won't get any easier this weekend in Washington. The Nationals are viewing this as a learning experience.
"I've heard it from a lot of opposing managers and scouts," Davey Johnson said, "They look at this ballclub as a very improved ballclub and I'm sure when [we] whip up on a couple clubs that even sends a more positive message. It's a very competitive division, the National League East is a tough division. You've got to be pretty solid all the way through in every aspect of your game if you're going to compete and win this division."
"We're in a pennant race," Johnson said explaining his approach to this weekend's series, "and I think it's great for my young players to be in a pennant race. Even though we're not the ones that are going to be in the post season, it's still going to feel like a pennant race and that's a good experience to go through."