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ATL@WSH: Strasburg whiffs nine en route to the win

As one of the surprise teams in the National League this season, the Nationals now get to try their hand against some of the toughest teams in the American League.

Washington will take a 15-game stroll through the brutal AL East, beginning Friday with a three-game series against the Red Sox. Each team in the AL East is above .500, with Boston at 29-28 and in last place.

Washington holds a slim one-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East after a 3-1 loss to the Mets on Thursday afternoon.

Two young workhorses will go head-to-head in the series opener Friday, with right-hander Stephen Strasburg taking the ball for the Nationals and lefty Felix Doubront for the Sox.

In a rotation stockpiled with talent, Doubront (6-2, 3.75 ERA) has been Boston's most consistent starter this year, and he picked up his sixth victory Saturday against the Blue Jays. The southpaw struck out seven over 6 1/3 frames and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last five starts.

"He does it in different ways," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said after Doubront's last start. "[Against the Blue Jays] he showed that he was a good pitcher because he was able to win the game without having his best stuff. ... He was behind hitters, getting three balls on hitters and still getting them out at times. The fourth inning, he came up with a good curveball, started throwing it and figured out a way to keep us in the game to win the game."

Strasburg (6-1, 2.35 ERA), meanwhile, has been no slouch himself lately. He had one of the best outings of his already strong young career on Saturday, pitching seven shutout innings against Atlanta while striking out nine and scattering four hits.

"That's the best I've seen [Strasburg] throw," Braves catcher Brian McCann said afterward. "He basically did anything he wanted today. He was pounding the ball down in the zone and mixing it up. He was putting his curveball where he wanted it. When you throw that hard and you can command it like that, it makes it tough on hitters."

Strasburg has pitched against only three Red Sox in his career. Marlon Byrd, Scott Podsednik and Cody Ross are a combined 2-for-12 with four strikeouts against him.

Nationals: East Coast bias
• Overall, the Nationals are 17 games (9-8) into a stretch in which they will play 32 consecutive games against teams from either the NL East (14) or AL East (18).

• Washington is 14-8 against its own division (4-1 vs. Atlanta, 4-2 vs. New York, 2-3 vs. Miami and 4-2 vs. Philadelphia).

Red Sox: Buchholz key in win over Baltimore

• The Red Sox recorded their third shutout of the season after picking up a 7-0 win over the Orioles on Thursday. It was the first since May 15, a 5-0 win over the Mariners.

Clay Buchholz pitched a complete game with six strikeouts while allowing only four hits and a walk. The victory was his sixth this season. He has given up two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts.

Worth noting
• In 14 games dating back to a 9-3 win on May 20 against the Orioles, Bryce Harper is hitting .333 (20-for-60) with a double, three triples, three home runs, nine RBIs, eight walks and 12 runs.

• The Red Sox ranked second in the American League with a 25-18 record since April 23. Prior to that date, Boston was 28th among the 30 Major League teams with a 4-10 start.

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