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PHI@WSH: Johnson on Strasburg's short night of work

Stephen Strasburg delivered an uncharacteristic performance the last time he took the mound, setting a season high and tying a career high with six earned runs allowed against the Phillies on Tuesday.

The All-Star right-hander will attempt a return to form on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, with the Nats gunning for a win of their four-game series against the Marlins and Ricky Nolasco. The Nationals, who lead the NL East by three games over the Braves, will be trying to close their homestand on a high note before starting a 10-game road trip on Monday in Houston.

Despite his struggles in that last outing, Strasburg is 11-5 with a 3.12 ERA, including 12 shutout innings over two starts against the Marlins this season. He has struck out 13 and walked two in those outings. But as Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of Strasburg on Tuesday, "You can't be totally dominant every time you go out there, even if he expects it of himself."

The Phillies reached Strasburg that day for eight hits and three home runs as he struggled to keep the ball down. After allowing six homers in his first 16 starts, Strasburg has served up six more over his past five outings.

"I think I threw one fastball down the way I wanted to, and that was the first pitch of the game," he said. "Other than that, everything was up."

Strasburg still is less than a year removed from his return to the Major Leagues following Tommy John surgery, but he resisted any efforts to tie his struggles to his recovery.

"I'm not blaming it on having Tommy John," he said. "It happens to everybody. I'm just going to forget about it and make the adjustments. It has nothing to do with coming off Tommy John."

Any trouble Strasburg is having pales in comparison to what Nolasco has been going through. The veteran righty is 8-10 with a 4.90 ERA this season, including 4-10 with a 5.91 mark in 15 starts since May 12. Opponents are batting .309 against him with an .845 OPS over that span.

Nolasco also has lost four consecutive starts, including Tuesday at Atlanta, surrendering at least four earned runs each time. His troubles have mirrored those of his team, which is sitting fourth in the NL East and has seen its roster depleted by injuries and trades.

"We can't throw a pity-party," said outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who hasn't started since Wednesday due to back spasms, but hopes to be back on Sunday. "We can't collectively keep on saying that we're snake-bit. Although it seems like at times we might be. Who we have in this room, we've just got to jell. We've got to come together. We've got to play. We've got to play hard and win games."

Marlins: Making the best of a makeshift lineup
All of the adversity has left manager Ozzie Guillen to employ the kind of lineup he never expected back in Spring Training.

On Saturday, the Miami outfield consisted of Bryan Petersen in left, Gorkys Hernandez in center and Scott Cousins in right, with Petersen and Cousins also occupying the top two spots in the order despite their sub-.200 batting averages. Meanwhile, Greg Dobbs was at third base and Donovan Solano at second, leaving only catcher John Buck and shortstop Jose Reyes from the team's Opening Day lineup.

"It's not the lineup I ever envisioned to have," Guillen said. "But, hey, it is what it is. I have to deal with it. We're going to find out what kind of talent those guys have now. More opportunity for those guys. Because the opportunity we gave them in the past, they're taking advantage to open people's eyes, or make people in love with them.

"I'm just being honest. I know a few things. I know a lot about talent, baseball talent. That's another opportunity they can show. We'll see what they can do and if we can count on them for years to come."

Nationals: Another first for Suzuki
Traded from the A's to the Nationals on Friday, Kurt Suzuki arrived in Washington in the wee hours of Saturday morning and debuted with his new team that night. He got his first shot at catching starter Jordan Zimmermann while going 0-for-3 at the plate.

Suzuki had spent his entire career with Oakland, and as the new everyday backstop for Washington, is getting a crash course in the club's star-studded pitching staff. It's a big transition for the six-year MLB veteran.

"To me, it is because that's my most important thing, is to build that relationship with the pitchers," Suzuki said. "That's what I take my pride in. It's going to definitely be a little work in progress, but I'm going to do everything I can to speed up the process. I think it'll be OK."

Suzuki is set to catch Strasburg for the first time on Sunday, and has been doing his best to prepare, watching film and studying scouting reports.

"The quicker we get on the same page, the better we'll be," he said.

Worth noting
• After Sunday, the teams will next meet for a two-game series in Miami on Aug. 28-29.

• Reyes has hit safely in 23 straight games, the longest active streak in the Majors and the fourth best in Marlins history, 12 games behind Luis Castillo's record of 35, set in 2002. First baseman Carlos Lee is riding a 10-game streak.

• Nolasco gave up four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Nationals on July 15, but is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four career starts at Nationals Park.

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