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WSH@BOS: Gio hurls 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball

Bryce Harper certainly steals some of the spotlight, but the Nationals' starting rotation -- filled with young, lively arms -- has played a major part in Washington's rise to the top of the National League East.

Stephen Strasburg, 23, became the first pitcher in the Majors to reach 100 strikeouts this season when he set down eight Blue Jays in six innings on Wednesday. Strasburg, who improved to 8-1, lowered his ERA to 2.45.

Jordan Zimmermann, 26, has submitted a quality start in 10 of his 12 trips to the mound, tossing at least six innings in each outing on his way to a 2.91 ERA.

Edwin Jackson, 28, signed as a free agent this past offseason, has averaged more than seven innings over his last five starts, posting a 2.21 ERA during that span.

Then there's Gio Gonzalez, who will toe the rubber in Washington's series opener on Friday against the Yankees in a matchup of two first-place East Coast clubs riding six-game winning streaks. The 26-year-old southpaw, obtained in a trade with Oakland over the offseason, is 8-2 with a 2.35 ERA and is nipping at Strasburg's heels with 89 strikeouts.

Gonzalez baffled Boston in his most recent outing, allowing just two runs on three hits in 6 1/3 innings. The Red Sox came away impressed by Washington's haul of hard-throwing hurlers.

"His curveball was late, and he was throwing it for a strike," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "His fastball was really good, too -- 95 [mph] with movement. He's got great stuff. Both of those last two guys we faced, [Strasburg and Gonzalez], are No. 1s."

The Yankees, meanwhile, have been establishing their own rotation stability. CC Sabathia has long anchored New York's rotation, and Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes appear to be turning the corner lately.

Nova has yielded just one run on nine hits in 15 innings over his last two outings, while Hughes, who will oppose Gonzalez at Nationals Park on Friday, has allowed three runs on 10 hits over 15 1/3 frames in his last two starts.

"Starting pitching has been the key," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said after Hughes' last outing, which came in a 4-2 victory over the Mets. "That's baseball for you. We feel really good about our starting pitching right now, and because of that, we can just go out there, play defense and score enough runs to win the game."

Yankees: A-Rod slams way into record books

Alex Rodriguez's eighth-inning grand slam on Tuesday did more than tie the game for the Yankees. It moved the third baseman into a tie with Lou Gehrig for the all-time lead in career grand slams with 23.

"This was definitely one to remember," Rodriguez said. "It was big; it really was. I really felt like it was a swing for the team. I feel like everybody needed that hit and we've all been waiting for it."

Rodriguez's blast to left field erased a 4-0 deficit. New York went on to beat the Braves, 6-4.

"It means a lot," Rodriguez said. "It was very special. This game is very, very difficult. If you're not going to enjoy these great moments, then it's not any fun. Lou Gehrig is not only one of the all-time greats, but he's one of ours. He was a Yankee. He was a guy, when they say, 'If you ever have the opportunity, who would you take to dinner?' For me, he would be in the top four or five."

Rodriguez carried the good vibes into Wednesday night's game, going 1-for-3 with a walk, including an RBI single in the first inning.

Nationals: Moore opens eyes

First baseman Adam LaRoche sat out Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Blue Jays to rest his sore right foot after fouling a ball off it on Tuesday night. LaRoche received treatment on the arch of his foot on Wednesday morning.

"I think he'll be fine, [but] he hit it pretty good," manager Davey Johnson said before Wednesday's game. "This field is pretty hard, so might as well give him today."

Rookie Tyler Moore started in LaRoche's place and tallied five RBIs, belting his first two Major League home runs after recording his first career RBIs with a two-run double.

Worth noting
• The Yankees have won nine of their last 10 games and 15 of 19.

• The Nationals have won eight of their last 10.

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