Marlins-Nationals Preview

Stephen Strasburg is doing his part to help keep the Washington Nationals' faint postseason hopes alive.

Looking to build on his best outing of the year, Strasburg tries to end his season-long struggles against the Miami Marlins on Sunday at Nationals Park.

Since coming off his season's second stint on the disabled list Aug. 8, Strasburg (9-7, 3.98 ERA) is 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts. He allowed one hit and matched a career best with 14 strikeouts in eight innings of Tuesday's 4-0 victory at Philadelphia.

"I trust my instincts, go out there and battle," the right-hander said. "I don't worry about what the stuff is doing. I want to go out there and compete."

Strasburg, who fanned 13 against the New York Mets on Sept. 9, joined Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in franchise history to strike out at least 13 in back-to-back contests.

Simply being at full strength has gone a long way for Strasburg.

"I think health is huge for anybody," he told MLB's official website. "It's a good learning process for me. It helps me have a better understanding that I need to have my body to go out ... and execute pitches."

Strasburg has struggled with the latter against Miami (64-85) this year, going 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA in three starts. He's only lasted 13 innings in those games and allowed 19 hits.

Washington (77-71), meanwhile, tries for a seventh win in eight games after Saturday's 5-2 victory. Seven games back of the first-place Mets in the NL East, the Nationals continue to realistically press on.

"Just worry about ourselves and worry about us winning games," NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper said. "If we don't win, it don't matter."

Harper had three RBIs and broke open a one-run contest with a two-run homer in the seventh. He tops the NL with a .340 average and 41 home runs, including five in the past six games as he's gone 11 for 23 with 10 RBIs.

"He's fun to watch. And anytime we can get some guys on base while he's coming up, something good usually happens," Saturday's winning pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said.

Harper and the rest of the Nationals get their first look at rookie Justin Nicolino (3-3, 3.81), who has allowed eight runs and 15 hits in 10 1-3 innings in two starts since opening September with seven scoreless innings at Atlanta. The left-hander has made seven of his nine career starts since Aug. 11, but Marlins manager Dan Jennings has no plans of shutting him down.

"I think, stamina-wise, he's fine," Jennings said. "He's not a power pitcher. He mixes pitches, he locates."

Miami's Justin Bour has a 1.255 OPS with eight RBIs over the last five games after collecting three hits Saturday. The first baseman is batting .333 with 12 RBIs in 17 games against Washington this season, and he's 4 for 10 with a homer off Strasburg.

While injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton (hand) won't return until next week at the earliest, teammate Martin Prado (wrist) could miss a third straight contest.

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