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National League Preview from The Sports Network



Friday, July 20th (All times eastern)

Atlanta Braves (50-41) at Washington Nationals (53-37), 7:05 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Atlanta - Tommy Hanson (10-5, 4.02) Washington - Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.66)

(Sports Network) - Set to pitch on his 24th birthday, it will be ace Stephen Strasburg looking to give his Washington Nationals a gift tonight in the opener of a four-game series with the Atlanta Braves.

The Nationals turn to their dominating hurler hoping he can set a tone for this key series, which features the top two teams in the NL East. Washington holds a 3 1/2-game edge over Atlanta and will look to have that gap widened by weekend's end.

Strasburg is first up and he snapped a three-start slide with a win over the Miami Marlins on Sunday. He hurled six scoreless innings of six-hit ball, walking one and striking out seven. It marked the eighth straight start in which Strasburg has not allowed more than three earned runs.

"That was one of the more impressive games (Strasburg) has pitched," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought he used his fastball better and his location was better. He got in some jams that he had to work out of but that is the Strasburg I've grown to love."

The right-hander improved to 10-4 with a 2.66 earned run average through 18 starts and 105 innings this season.

Strasburg's recent losing streak included a temperature-plagued loss in Atlanta on June 30. Pitching under 106-degree heat, the hurler lasted only three innings before the heat forced him out. Strasburg was charged with three runs on two hits and four walks in a loss, dropping him to 2-3 with a 4.26 ERA in five career starts versus the Braves.

Atlanta counters with its own 10-game winner in Tommy Hanson, but he has struggled to a 5.87 ERA over his last five starts. Still, the righty is 3-1 over that time and did not factor into an 8-7 win on Saturday versus the Mets. Hanson allowed six runs on nine hits and two walks, the most runs he had allowed in a start since another six-run performance versus the Cardinals on May 28.

The 25-year-old is 10-5 with a 4.02 ERA in 19 starts this season, including a 7-2 mark and 3.00 ERA in 10 outings on the road.

Hanson has an even 3-3 record and 3.38 ERA in 10 career meetings with the Nationals. He won his lone start against them this season, hurling seven innings of two-run ball while fanning six on June 3 in Washington.

That was one of only two victories by the Braves over the Nationals this season through eight meetings.

Atlanta has won eight of its past 10 overall and avoided a three-game sweep versus the visiting San Francisco Giants with a 3-2 win on Thursday. Tim Hudson scattered two runs over 7 1/3 innings and was backed by solo homers from David Ross and Freddie Freeman.

"I didn't feel particularly great out there, but good enough," Hudson said. "I located when I needed to, a couple of times I battled my mechanics a little bit but just kept them off balance with some cutters, some, changeups, curveballs, and guys behind me made some great plays when they needed to."

The Nats, meanwhile, had won three of four prior to yesterday's 9-5 defeat to the Mets. Gio Gonzalez struggled in an attempt at a 13th win this year, giving up a season-high six runs over just 3 1/3 innings.

"All I was trying to do was just try to help out the team in anyway possible, go out there and give them a couple good innings and try to keep us in there as much as possible," said Gonzalez. "Unfortunately, I couldn't do that job."

Ryan Zimmerman homered and Michael Morse supplied two RBI for Washington.

07/20 10:31:34 ET