Although it's likely too little, too late, Stephen Strasburg is finally pitching the way the Washington Nationals hoped he would throughout the entire season.
The right-hander will try to extend his strong stretch while helping host Washington stave off elimination Saturday against the major league-worst Philadelphia Phillies.
The Nationals were the darlings of many prognostications to win the 2015 World Series, but instead they're on the verge of missing the playoffs after four consecutive defeats.
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Washington's 8-2 loss in Friday's series opener left it 3-8 at Nationals Park since Sept. 7 and 8 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets with nine remaining.
It looked as though Strasburg had suffered another setback during this injury-plagued season Aug. 30 when he left after four innings due to discomfort in his back. He's already missed close to two months with neck tightness and then an oblique strain.
But after getting some extra rest, Strasburg has come back stronger than ever while striking out at least 10 in three consecutive starts for the first time in his career. He's posted a 1.61 ERA with 37 strikeouts and only three walks over 22 1-3 innings in those outings.
Strasburg (10-7, 3.81 ERA) won for the second straight time Sunday, allowing one earned run and fanning 10 over seven innings in a 13-3 home win over Miami.
"I don't have the innings I would hope for," he told MLB's official website. "I try to focus on the now. I can't really worry about the past or the future. I try to focus on each pitch - one at a time - and execute each one to the best of my ability."
Strasburg has gone 7-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 15 starts against the Phillies (58-96), including three wins in four outings this season. He's hoping to match his most recent meeting Sept. 15 when he yielded one hit and had a career high-tying 14 strikeouts over eight innings in a 4-0 win.
Aaron Altherr went 4 for 5 with two home runs Friday, including the majors' first inside-the-park grand slam since Tampa Bay's Randy Winn in 1999. Darin Ruf and Cody Asche also homered for Philadelphia, which seeks its first back-to-back road wins since Aug. 22 and 23.
After allowing six runs and nine hits - three home runs - over five innings in an 8-7, 11-inning home loss to the Nationals (78-75) on Sept. 14, Aaron Nola (6-2, 3.84) responded by giving up one run over seven Sunday before leaving without a decision in a 2-1 loss at Atlanta.
The rookie right-hander, who had been 5-1 with a 3.26 ERA over his first eight starts, could be making his last appearance since the Phillies are monitoring his workload.
Jayson Werth hit a grand slam and Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon added solo shots off Nola earlier this month. Werth also went 2 for 4 with a home run in the opener, leaving him 7 for 17 with five homers in his last four games against his former team.
Harper, hitless with three strikeouts Friday, is 0 for 10 during the losing streak.