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Phillies-Nationals Preview

Batters aren't struggling to get hits off Stephen Strasburg, much unlike the past two years - when he regularly victimized the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Washington Nationals right-hander could get on the right track Sunday by continuing his mastery of the Phillies, who have had trouble hitting most pitchers entering the finale of a four-game series in the nation's capital.

Strasburg (0-1, 6.75 ERA) has a .378 opponent batting average going into the weekend, fifth-worst in the majors among pitchers to have thrown at least 10 innings. That's a surprise considering he held batters to a .228 average over the 2013 and 2014 seasons to rank ninth in baseball.

His 0.99 ERA against Philadelphia during that span was easily his best against any NL opponent, going 4-0 in eight starts with 69 strikeouts in 54 2-3 innings. The Phillies hit .198 against Strasburg in those two years.

Strasburg surrendered a career-high 10 hits and five runs in 5 1-3 innings of Tuesday's 8-7 loss at Boston.

"Sometimes you're going to give up more hits than normal," Strasburg told MLB's official website.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are a combined 7 for 43 (.163) with no extra-base hits against him and off to terrible starts, a major reason Philadelphia (4-8) is batting an NL-worst .213 and scoring a major league-low 2.58 runs per game.

Utley is in an 0-for-17 drought to drop his average to .119. Howard, recently dropped from the cleanup spot to seventh, is batting .167 with no homers and 13 strikeouts in 36 at-bats.

They were 0 for 6 on Saturday but the Phillies ended a six-game losing streak with a 5-3 win in Washington (5-7). Rookie Odubel Herrera had three of Philadelphia's seven hits and added two runs, two steals and an RBI.

Herrera is 8 for 16 in the last four games and recently took over the leadoff spot from Ben Revere, who has come off the bench in this series. Revere was batting .135 before doubling in his only at-bat Saturday and scoring twice, helping Philadelphia end Washington's three-game win streak.

"The Nationals are a great team, this is real big," Revere said. "Hopefully we come back tomorrow and tie this (series) up."

David Buchanan (0-2, 11.42 ERA) could help make that happen but has struggled this year after posting a 2.89 ERA in the final 11 starts of his 2014 rookie season. He's allowed 11 runs, 16 hits and six walks in 8 2-3 innings.

"I've got to get better and that's pretty much all there is to it," Buchanan said.

The right-hander allowed career highs of seven runs and 10 hits in his only start against Washington, a 7-0 road loss June 3.

Denard Span had three hits against him that day and could come off the disabled list Sunday to make his season debut after being sidelined by a torn abdominal muscle. Span, whose .302 average and 31 steals led the Nationals last year, is surprised to be returning so soon.

"When I first received the news, I thought I wouldn't be back until the middle of May and I might not be myself until June or July," Span said.

Span could return to the leadoff spot ahead of two hot players. Ian Desmond is 11 for 21 in his last five games, and Bryce Harper has reached base in 11 of his last 17 plate appearances after homering for the second straight game Saturday.

Desmond, though, committed his major league-leading eighth error after leading all shortstops with 24 last season.

"I've been here before and I can work my way out of it," Desmond said. "I think I can work even harder than I'm working."

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