(Sports Network) - Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound just in time for the Washington Nationals' latest homestand, which begins tonight with the first of three straight matchups against the Florida Marlins.
Strasburg hasn't pitched since a 5 2/3-inning stint at Cincinnati on July 21 that resulted in the rookie phenom's fifth victory in seven decisions since his much-publicized callup to the majors in early June. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick had been scheduled to work Washington's game with Atlanta on July 27, but experienced some stiffness in his throwing shoulder and was placed on the 15- day disabled list as a precaution.
The 22-year-old hasn't had any problems since being shelved, as he successfully threw around 45 pitches in a simulated game last Thursday and followed up with an uneventful bullpen session on Saturday. The Nationals will still be careful with their prized young prospect, however, with manager Jim Riggleman indicating that Strasburg will be held to a 90-pitch limit in tonight's tilt.
Strasburg had put up some very impressive numbers prior to the injury, recording a 2.32 earned run average over his first nine big-league outings and striking out an eye-opening 75 batters in just 54 1/3 innings of work. He enters tonight's opener on a three-start win streak that includes a July 16 triumph over the Marlins in which the right-hander fanned seven Florida hitters in six shutout frames.
Washington starts up a six-game residency this evening and just got back from a week-long West Coast trip through Arizona and Los Angeles. The Nationals won three of their first five contests on the trek, but closed it out with back- to-back losses to the Dodgers over the weekend. In Sunday's finale, Los Angeles erupted for four first-inning runs off Nats starter Jason Marquis en route to an 8-3 victory.
Making his first start since April 18, Marquis (0-4) lasted only four innings and allowed five runs, although three were unearned due to a pair of Washington errors in the opening frame. The veteran righty had been sidelined more than three months after having surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.
"The first inning Jason pitched himself into trouble and it was a struggle from then on," Riggleman remarked. "He couldn't get ahead of hitters." Mike Morse and Jason Maxwell each had solo homers to account for Washington's lone runs.
The Marlins began August with five consecutive losses before finally breaking through with Sunday's 5-4 extra-inning verdict over St. Louis, with Hanley Ramirez's one-out double in the bottom of the 10th providing the winning margin.
Ramirez laced a pitch from Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin into the right- center field gap to bring home Chad Tracy, who had reached base with a single in the previous at-bat, and lift the Marlins to a much-needed comeback win. Florida had trailed 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, but pulled even on Dan Uggla's solo homer off Franklin to lead off that half of the frame.
St. Louis had briefly gone ahead with a rally of its own in the top of the ninth, scoring a pair of runs against Florida reliever Leo Nunez to claim a one-run edge. The blown save thwarted Marlins ace Josh Johnson's chances of earning an 11th win of the season.
Johnson, the major league leader with a 1.97 ERA, had held the Cardinals to two runs and five hits over the game's first eight innings.
"You're always going to feel frustration as soon as it happens," Johnson said of the blown save. "But as soon as you win, it all goes away."
Ramirez delivered a solo homer in his first at-bat of the day and Uggla finished 3-for-4 for Florida, which prevailed despite being without two regulars in first baseman Gaby Sanchez (hamstring) and outfielder Cody Ross (neck). Both players are expected to be ready to go for tonight's battle with Strasburg, however.
The Marlins will send Anibal Sanchez to the hill for this evening's clash, with the injury-prone hurler seeking to bounce back from a rough last start. Against Philadelphia this past Wednesday, the right-hander was reached for four runs on seven hits and walked three batters before exiting after 4 1/3 innings of a 7-2 setback.
Sanchez had been absolutely brilliant in his previous go-around, yielding a mere one-hit and striking out eight in a complete-game shutout of San Francisco on July 29. That's the native Venezuelan's only win in his last seven starts, however.
The 26-year-old has had good success when facing the Nationals in the past, though. Sanchez is 3-0 with a 2.97 ERA in 10 career meetings with Washington and owns a 1.74 ERA over a pair of starts at Nationals Park. One of those appearances took place on May 9, with Sanchez surrendering two runs but issuing four walks in a 4 1/3-inning no-decision.
Washington took two of three bouts from the visiting Marlins in that May series, but Florida holds a slight 5-4 edge in this year's season set.