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Nats 'very confident' with Strasburg in top form

Righty has been dominant since return from DL
MLB.com @feinsand

WASHINGTON -- If the Dodgers and Nationals meet again next month -- and barring something very odd during the next two weeks, that wouldn't happen until the NLCS -- Washington has a reason to believe it won't be doomed to repeat a similar fate after losing last year's Game 5 of the NLDS at home.

His name is Stephen Strasburg.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- If the Dodgers and Nationals meet again next month -- and barring something very odd during the next two weeks, that wouldn't happen until the NLCS -- Washington has a reason to believe it won't be doomed to repeat a similar fate after losing last year's Game 5 of the NLDS at home.

His name is Stephen Strasburg.

Full Game Coverage

The right-hander missed last year's postseason after spending the final month of the season on the disabled list with a strained flexor mass in his right arm, taking away one of the Nationals' most potent weapons.

This year, when a nerve impingement in his elbow sent him to the disabled list in late July, there was a sense of relief that the injury wasn't more serious, but also trepidation regarding what the rest of his season would bring.

Any uneasiness or anxiety concerning Strasburg's elbow has surely been alleviated since he came back on Aug. 23. All he's done since then is go 4-1 with a 0.66 ERA, 0.756 WHIP, 49 strikeouts and seven walks over 41 innings.

"We didn't have him last October, so we're very confident," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You're going out there with him, [Max] Scherzer, Gio [Gonzalez] and Tanner [Roark]; that's where it starts. It starts with your starting pitching."

Video: LAD@WSH: Strasburg displays his quick reflexes

Strasburg's latest performance was six sparkling innings against the Dodgers, who managed only one run on three hits against the three-time All-Star in a 7-1 Nationals win. Had Michael A. Taylor been able to chase down Logan Forsythe's deep fly in the second inning -- the ball hit the base of Taylor's glove on what would have been a three-star play -- we might be talking about Strasburg's 40-inning scoreless streak.

Instead, Strasburg's streak ended at a franchise-record 35 innings, though he kept the Dodgers' bats quiet after allowing the run, promptly beginning a new streak with four straight zeros.

"It was going to happen eventually," Strasburg said. "I just tried to minimize the damage."

Despite the final line, Strasburg wasn't overly impressed with his stuff.

"It was OK," Strasburg said. "Those are the games that you just have to grind and keep fighting. Just try and keep it close."

That's precisely what he did, holding the score at 1-0 before Ryan Zimmerman's three-run home run in the sixth gave the Nationals their first lead of the series. Zimmerman would hit another bomb as part of a three-run eighth, ensuring that Strasburg (14-4) would win his fourth straight start.

Video: Must C Combo: Zimmerman slugs two homers to lead Nats

Strasburg was unable to join Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster and Brandon Webb as the only pitchers in the Wild Card era (since 1994) to go five straight starts without allowing a run, but if he's able to deliver starts like this next month, the Nationals will be a tough out.

If those starts come against the Dodgers, all the better. In two starts against Los Angeles this season, Strasburg has allowed two earned runs over 12 innings -- a 1.50 ERA -- giving up six hits and four walks while striking out 16.

"Strasburg pitched well," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He competed; we couldn't create too much stress on him."

If there was a silver lining for the Dodgers, it was the three stolen bases they had against Strasburg, who had allowed only four steals all season and none in his previous 15 starts (89.1 innings) dating back to the beginning of June.

Not that it bothered Strasburg.

"It's good that they did that now, so we can do some homework and figure out what they were looking at and make the adjustments," Strasburg said.

Strasburg didn't offer much when asked about the postseason and his excitement of pitching in October for the first time since 2014, but clearly it's on his mind.

"The past is in the past," Strasburg said. "I'm just trying to be in the moment."

Just as the Dodgers walked away from the first two games with the swagger that comes along with watching your pitcher dominate a potential postseason foe, the Nationals left Sunday knowing Strasburg will be up to the challenge of facing a deep L.A. lineup that boasts five regulars with an OPS of .800 or better.

As for losing two of three, effectively ending any drama in the race for home-field advantage, Zimmerman dismissed the idea that this series meant more given the possibility of an October rematch.

"There's a lot of people that played in this series that, if we meet again, probably won't even be on the roster," Zimmerman said. "It's so hard to take things away from September series. They're a really good team; that's what you can take away from this series."

Strasburg's outing was the biggest takeaway for the Nationals, though for Baker, the performance Sunday night was all about the present, not the future.

"We certainly didn't want them to come into our house and sweep us," Baker said. "That was the real significance."

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals, Stephen Strasburg