Stephen Strasburg solid in return as Washington Nationals top Braves

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For the first two months of the season, one of the biggest concerns surrounding the Washington Nationals was the continued struggles of Stephen Strasburg. The former first-overall draft pick looked nothing like himself, battling several minor injuries and posting a mediocre 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts of the season.

In a May 29 start against the Reds, Strasburg’s slow start hit rock bottom when the right-hander was removed from the game due to an injury after just one inning. Not long after, the Nationals placed him on the disabled list, partly to get physical healthy, but probably to work on his mechanics as well. Officially, Strasburg landed on the DL with a strained left trapezius.

Three weeks, a rehab start, and a two-hour rain delay later, Strasburg returned to the rotation Tuesday night. And in his first start back, the right-hander looked nothing like he did the first couple of months of the season and looked a lot like the dominant pitcher we’ve seen over the last few years.

Healthy, clean-shaven and rocking a high-90s fastball, a rejuvenated Strasburg pitched a great game against the Braves and helped lead his team to a 3-1 victory over their rivals from the south. Strasburg was solid all night long, holding the Braves’ offense to no runs on just four hits while striking out six batters and walking one.

It was one of the best starts of the season for Strasburg, who earned his fourth win in his first scoreless outing of 2015. After today’s game, Strasburg’s ERA is down to 5.90.

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The Nationals’ offense didn’t give Strasburg a whole lot of run support, but it was enough to top a Braves’ lineup that wasn’t able to do much against Washington pitching.

Anthony Rendon got things started for the Nationals with an RBI single in the bottom of the first inning. The Nationals made it a 2-0 game on an RBI single by Denard Span in the third, before scoring their third and final run on another RBI single in the sixth inning, this time off the bat of Michael A. Taylor.

Despite only scoring three runs against Braves’ starter Alex Wood, it was a solid night for the Nationals’ offense. The team notched 12 hits on the night and four hitters had multi-hit games, including an impressive 4-for-4 performance by Rendon.

After Strasburg left the game, the Nationals’ bullpen kept the Braves’ lineup mostly quiet the rest of the game. Tanner Roark pitched two scoreless innings. Matt Thornton gave up a solo homer to Cameron Maybin to make it a 3-1 game in the eighth, but right-hander David Carpenter came in to end the inning and maintain the two-run lead for the Nationals.

As is usually the case when these two clubs meet, there was plenty of drama late in the game and the win did not come easily for the Nationals. But the Braves’ ninth inning rally wasn’t enough, as Washington closer Drew Storen worked around a bases-loaded jam to secure the 3-1 win for the Nationals. Strasburg came back with a win, Storen earned his 21st save of the season, and the Nationals won their fourth game in a row to stretch their NL East lead over the Mets to 2 1/2 games.

Next Game: The Nationals and Braves will be back at it Wednesday night as Jordan Zimmermann (5-5, 3.75 ERA) and the Nationals look to secure a series win over Shelby Miller (5-3, 1.99 ERA) and the Braves. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. EST.

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