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Nationals and Stephen Strasburg try to keep rolling in series opener vs Padres

Washington Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg takes on his hometown team tonight in the series opener with the San Diego Padres in Nationals Park. Can the Nats win their third straight for the first time since early July?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego, California-born, San Diego State University-educated right-hander Stephen Strasburg was in the midst of a rough stretch of starts when he faced the Padres for the first time this season back in mid-May.

Coming off a 3 ⅓-innning start against the Arizona Diamondbacks on the road in Chase Field in which he gave up eight hits and eight runs, seven earned, Strasburg was struggling out of the stretch, up in the zone and getting hit hard.

"He was throwing his fastball where he wanted to and that allows him to get ahead in the count and then he can use his other stuff if he wants to..." -Matt Williams on Stephen Strasburg vs the Padres in May

Through seven starts to that point, the then-26-now-27-year-old right-hander was (2-4) with a 6.06 ERA, 11 walks (2.78 BB/9) and 35 Ks (8.83 K/9) in 35 ⅔ IP over which he had a .316/.368/.460 line against and a .398 BABIP-against, which was up significantly over his career mark of a .304 BABIP.

Strasburg headed into the start with something to prove, coming off the outing against the D-Backs, which he said was embarrassing.

"I let the team down," he told reporters. "It sucks. I’m just trying to go out there and help this team win some games. I didn’t do that tonight. I’ve just got to turn the page and get back on it tomorrow."

The '09 no.1 overall pick put together a solid-ish start against his hometown team in Petco Park, giving up five hits and three runs in five innings with Matt Kemp driving in a run with an RBI single and Justin Upton taking him deep for a solo home run.

The third run he was charged with scored after he left the mound when Kemp and Upton, doubled and singled, respectively, before Strasburg was lifted from the game.

Kemp came in on a RBI groundout that made it 7-3 Nationals.

"I just wanted to go out there today and keep the team in the ballgame and give us an opportunity to win and they went out there and did it," Strasburg said after what ended up a 10-5 victory.

"Just locating my fastball better. I think my changeup to lefties was a little bit better. Curveball was good too." -Stephen Strasburg on start vs Padres in May

"Better," Nationals' manager Matt Williams said. "A little more aggressive today. Ran into trouble in the last inning. He did a nice job of pitching out of that first, but he used his fastball today, which was a good sign."

The difference for Strasburg?

"I think it's just his aggressiveness," Williams told reporters, "in the last inning especially.

"Kemp and Upton hit breaking balls, but he was throwing his fastball where he wanted to and that allows him to get ahead in the count and then he can use his other stuff if he wants to, but he was really aggressive early with his heater which is a good sign."

Things got worse before they got better, however, with Strasburg landing on the 15-Day DL two starts later with neck tightness which the Nats said resulted from adjustments he made to deal with an ankle issue suffered during Spring Training.

He returned three weeks later to make two solid outings before an oblique strain suffered in a July 4th start resulted in his second DL stint of the season.

A month later, Strasburg picked up where he left off with three strong starts that produced much better results.

In six starts since his first DL stint of the season, Strasburg has put up a 1.26 ERA, six walks (1.51 BB/9) and 43 Ks (10/85 K/9) in 35 ⅔ IP over which he's held opposing hitters to a .167/.205/.278 line and a .235 BABIP.

Tonight in the nation's capital he's set to take on the Padres again in the series opener of San Diego's three-game set in D.C.

At home in Nationals Park this season, the right-hander is (3-3) in seven starts with an ERA two runs lower (3.09 to 5.09) than it is on the road, and a .237/.307/.358 line against in 35 IP vs .277/.315/.452 line against in 46 innings pitched away from Washington.

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