Driven by two of the youngest stars in the major leagues, the Washington Nationals shoot for their second straight win and the fourth in the last five outings this afternoon as they clash with the Boston Red Sox in the second of a three-game set at Fenway Park.
On Friday pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg registered his seventh win in eight decisions, carving up the Boston batting order for 13 strikeouts in a 7-4 triumph, but he still had to share some of the top billing with Bryce Harper. One of the most exciting players on the young season, Harper posted three hits, including a two-run home run, knocked in three runs and scored twice as he helped lift the Nats to 10 games over .500 and a game ahead of Atlanta for first place in the National League East.
Strasburg, who allowed two runs on four hits over six innings, had 10 strikeouts in his first four frames as he became the youngest pitcher to fan at least 13 at Fenway Park since Roger Clemens set down 20 Mariners in 1986. The youngster also threw a career-high 119 pitches which was somewhat of a concern since he recently underwent Tommy John surgery.
"Strasburg threw a great game out there -- 13 strikeouts. He was a competitor out there on the bump tonight," noted Harper who came up a triple shy of the cycle. "Everybody on this club swung it well tonight. Strasburg came out and dealt. That was great to see."
Boston starter Felix Doubront was saddled with the loss, his third of the campaign, as he allowed six runs on eight hits and a couple of walks, fanning six over just four innings.
Daniel Nava and Adrian Gonzalez both tallied a pair of hits for the hosts, the latter registering his fifth home run of the season. Mike Aviles knocked in a pair as well for a Red Sox squad that has dropped four of the last five contests and is now last in the American League East at 29-29.
Preparing to make his return to the majors in almost a year, Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to take the hill for the Red Sox this afternoon. Matsuzaka, who has made eight rehab starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, has a career record of 49-30 since landing in the majors, but he hasn't had double- digit victories since posting an 18-3 mark in 2008.
The right-hander is making his first-ever appearance against the Nationals.
As for the visitors, they have their ace Gio Gonzalez heading to the hill this afternoon. The Florida native is searching for his eighth win of the campaign and trying to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in 2012 as well.
The lefty had won five straight outings heading into his meeting with Atlanta on Sunday but gave up three runs on seven hits and three walks, striking out five in a 3-2 setback at home.
Gonzalez, who pitched with Oakland for four seasons prior to joining Washington, has a record of 2-1 with a 5.79 ERA in five career games versus the Red Sox.
Thanks to Gonzalez and Strasburg, the Nationals currently own the top team ERA in the majors at 2.99. The staff has struck out a total of 483 batters, third- most in the NL, while opponents are hitting a league-low .222 against them.
At the other end of the spectrum, Boston pitchers rank 25th with opposing hitters sporting a .262 batting average. The Sox have a collective ERA of 4.47 through 58 games and yet they are just four games out of first in the highly competitive AL East.
Now three games under .500 at home at 14-17, the Red Sox began this series with a record of 10-2 versus Washington dating back to the 2000 campaign. Boston is now 152-117 all-time in Interleague play and Washington is 127-139.