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Strasburg leads Nats past Giants

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Strasburg leads Nats past Giants

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg might be pushing closer to that management-imposed innings limit -- whatever the number might be in the mind of the brass.

Washington's ace brushed off questions on the topic, and so did manager Davey Johnson. There are more important matters at hand with the NL East-leading Nationals rolling as they head into a key stretch against the division at home.

Strasburg capped Washington's longest road trip of the season by winning his third straight start in a 6-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.

He outpitched Tim Lincecum in the process.

"It's out of my control," said Strasburg, who now stands at 139 1-3 innings. "I'm just doing everything I can to help this team win games, and it's all going to take care of itself in the end."

One hitter Strasburg (14-5) didn't have to face: All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera. He was suspended 50 games earlier in the day for a positive testosterone test.

Danny Espinosa hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the third inning, Jayson Werth drove in three runs and Kurt Suzuki added a sacrifice fly for Washington, which won a fourth straight series and now heads home for key series against division opponents New York and Atlanta.

Strasburg struck out seven and walked four in six innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

"He pitches. Guys talk about his power stuff but he knows what he's doing out there," said Suzuki, who came to the Nationals in an Aug. 3 trade from Oakland. "He's got all the hype around him. Being on the outside looking in, you always wonder. Being in a different league, and now to be catching him, you see what it's all about."

Lincecum's latest shaky outing was over after just four innings.

Brandon Crawford hit a two-run single for the Giants, who began the day in a first-place tie atop the NL West with rival Los Angeles. The Dodgers were set to play a night game at Pittsburgh.

For the Giants, losing the game was secondary to losing Cabrera. The news broke about an hour before first pitch, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy called his players together in a meeting to tell them.

Major League Baseball announced Cabrera tested positive for testosterone -- and he won't be back until either next season or at the earliest the playoffs, depending how far San Francisco were to advance.

"My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used," Cabrera said in a statement released by the union. "I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down."

Cabrera is batting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs in his first season with San Francisco and is five hits shy of 1,000 in his big league career.

"Ultimately, it was just a bad decision," catcher Buster Posey said.

Lincecum (6-13) lost his second straight start after winning three of the previous four for the Giants, who ended a stretch playing for 20 straight days and will have a day off Thursday in San Diego ahead of a weekend series with the Padres.

The umpire crew turned to instant replay to determine whether Michael Morse's hit to lead off the fifth was a home run or a double off the top of the wall in right-center. The double stood, and Morse extended his hitting streak to 12 games.

Lincecum struck out five and walked one but labored for most of his brief outing. He threw 38 pitches in the first inning when Washington scored twice, then gave up a towering drive to right-center by Espinosa in the third before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fourth.

That ended Lincecum's best stretch of the season -- he had allowed only five earned runs over 20 innings going into the game -- and left the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner once again searching for answers.

Strasburg, on the other hand, was quietly effective while beating the Giants for the second time in his career.

The Nationals right-hander allowed Crawford's single in the second after opening the inning with back-to-back walks, but was otherwise strong in his first outing at the Giants waterfront ballpark.

He struck out Posey in the third after a nine-pitch duel with the All-Star catcher, then struck out the side in the fifth.

Espinosa's home run was his 13th of the season and fourth in his past 12 games.

Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for the Nationals, allowing a two-out single to pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez and an unearned run when first baseman Adam LaRoche lost Pablo Sandoval's popup for an error that allowed Sanchez to score from second. Clippard held on for his 25th save.

Sandoval insists the Giants will move forward without Cabrera.

"We are a team. We're trying to make the playoffs," Sandoval said. "We're going to fight."

Notes: Strasburg walked four for the second straight game, matching his season high. ... San Francisco C Posey will be behind the plate as much as possible in the coming weeks without him getting worn down. ... Johnson on Bochy: "Bochy reminds me of Whitey Herzog trying to get all those switch-hitters in there. Whitey liked to get eight of em in if he could." ... Cabrera had been in the original lineup batting third and playing LF. Gregor Blanco played in his place and added an RBI single. ... Lincecum failed to reach five innings for the sixth time in his 25 starts this year. Before this season, he'd done so only 15 times. ... San Francisco's Brandon Belt has nine hits in his past 16 at-bats and is hitting .407 (24 for 59) in his past 18 games. ... Home run king Barry Bonds attended the game and received a standing ovation when he made an early exit.

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Nats' Giolito returns to minors: 'It’s back to the drawing board'

Nats' Giolito returns to minors: 'It’s back to the drawing board'

For the second time in two weeks, the Nationals have sent top prospect Lucas Giolito back down to the minors to work on some things.

The former first round pick who many consider to be the top prospect in baseball has hit a rough patch this season. His talent has been well-documented and it's obvious on the mound. But the results at the big league level have yet to follow through three MLB starts and even Giolito will admit he is not where he wants to be.

The Nationals saw Giolito labor through 3 2/3 innings against the Padres on Sunday, then sent him to Triple-A Syracuse 90 minutes after the game was over. The kid who has the stuff to strike out anybody struck out nobody in his latest MLB turn and only got one swing-and-miss in his 66 pitches.

Something is off and they are determined to figure it out.

“I was talking to [Wilson] Ramos when I took him out and he said he just couldn’t get any of his secondary pitches over, his curveball or his changeup," manager Dusty Baker said. "He was really down to one pitch. And you have to have either tremendous gas, or you have to be able to locate to the max. It’s back to the drawing board with him.”

Baker has offered detailed critiques of Giolito since he debuted on June 28. Part of him has been impressed by the 22-year-old. But as a 21-year veteran MLB manager, he's seen countless top prospects and knows Giolito has plenty of work to do to reach his potential.

Last week when the Nats chose prospect Reynaldo Lopez to face the Dodgers instead of Giolito, Baker offered a blunt assessment.

"What we want… in the progress of certain players, it doesn't coincide sometimes," he said. 

Giolito's fastball reached 95 and 96 on Sunday, but sometimes dipped to the 91-93 range. That's fine, but nowhere near the upper 90s to 100 he has thrown in the past.

But, as Baker describes, it's not so much the velocity that is hurting him. It's the inability to command his curveball and changeup. Giolito only threw four changeups on Sunday.

"I wasn't commanding my off speed pitches for strikes," Giolito said. "So when I fall behind batters instead of being able to go to changeup or curveball, I was throwing fastballs and big league hitters are able to take my offspeed pitches out of the equation if I'm not throwing it for a strike. So, they kind of jumped on that."

Giolito's offspeed repertoire has been a work in progress all season and he has had trouble walking batters as a result. On Sunday, he walked three batters and now has nine through three big league starts. In the minors this season, Giolito has walked 36 batters in 84 2/3 innings.

During spring training, his first big league camp, Giolito's curveball and changeup were sharp. But as the season has progressed, he's seen his command come and go. 

"It's frustrating because my last outing at Syracuse I was commanding offspeed pitches pretty well and I had a good outing. I didn't translate that into today, obviously. I just have to keep working and try to get better at it," he said.

Along the way Giolito has made several minor mechanical adjustments. But lately, he has been working with a noticeable one, his delivery has been compacted to eliminate a full windup. Instead, Giolito almost works out of the stretch even when runners are not on base.

"I augmented my windup so that I already have my foot planted from where I start it from instead of the movement before hand, I felt like that's been a good change for me, kind of less movement going into the windup. I feel comfortable doing that," he said.

Making changes, both big and small, is part of the learning process for Giolito as a professional pitcher. The Nationals are confident he'll soon be able to tap into his immense potential, it's just going to take some time for him to figure it out.

[RELATED: Nats option Giolito, Taylor to make room on roster]

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Nats option Giolito, Taylor to make room for Zimmerman and Solis

Nats option Giolito, Taylor to make room for Zimmerman and Solis

Less than 90 minutes after their 10-6 loss to the San Diego Padres, the Nationals wasted no time in making a pair of roster moves to pave the way for the expected returns of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and reliever Sammy Solis from the disabled list.

The two casualties were starter Lucas Giolito, who struggled earlier in the day in his third MLB appearance, and outfielder Michael Taylor, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the loss. Both were optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

Zimmerman and Solis are expected to return to the Nationals on Tuesday when they play at the Cleveland Indians. The Nats are off Monday before they begin an 11-day, nine-game road trip with stops also in San Francisco and Arizona.

Zimmerman will rejoin the Nats after rehabbing from a left rib cage strain. He has been on the disabled list since July 7. He went 5-for-12 with a homer and five RBI in three minor league rehab games with the Single-A Potomac Nationals.

Solis has been on the DL since July 8 with right knee inflammation. He pitched two rehab games, one with Potomac and one with Single-A Hagerstown. Solis gave up one run on a homer in his two total innings of work.

Giolito goes back down to Triple-A after making one start with the Nats. He allowed four runs, two of them earned, in 3 2/3 innings against San Diego. Giolito has given up six earned runs in 11 total big league innings this season.

Taylor also returns to Syracuse. He was called up on July 8 when Zimmerman was placed on the DL. Taylor is hitting .222 with seven homers and 14 RBI in 66 games this season.

With Zimmerman back in the infield, Trea Turner is expected to be the odd man out. That could mean a return to the Nats' bench, or an experiment with him in center field. Turner began learning the position several weeks ago by playing six games at center in Triple-A. With Taylor now out of the mix, he could be at the very least the team's backup option at the position.

Whether they will start him there soon, though, is hard to tell. 

"I got to get Zim back in the lineup. He’s a big part of our offense," manager Dusty Baker said. "We just got to try to find a place with Zim coming back, find a place for [Turner] to play."

"I did it in Syracuse and I'll do it here if they need me to," Turner said of playing center.

"It's something that I've embraced. It's something that I'll do if they need me to."

[RELATED: Aaron Barrett suffers major setback in TJ recovery]

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Baker wonders if fatigue played role in Papelbon's collapse vs. Padres

Baker wonders if fatigue played role in Papelbon's collapse vs. Padres

Sunday was not a banner day for a Nationals bullpen that has for the most part exceeded expectations this season.

First, setup man Shawn Kelley - who has been reliable for most of this year - allowed two solo home runs in the top of the eighth. That vanished a two-run lead for the Nats, allowing the Padres to tie it at 6-6.

Then, in the ninth inning it was Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't allowed a run in eight straight outings since returning from the DL. His luck run out with a four-run frame, one that sunk the Nats with a 10-6 deficit.

That Kelley-Papelbon combination looked mighty good just one night before against the same team. But they couldn't close the deal in a game the Nationals held a two-run advantage entering the eighth inning.

Both pitchers blamed location for their problems. Manager Dusty Baker, though, offered one theory for Papelbon.

"I don’t like to make excuses, but I don’t like to use my closer three days in a row. And this was three days in a row for Pap," he said. "But we didn’t have a choice. The ball wasn’t coming out today the way it had been since he came back from the injury."

Papelbon shot down the premise that he was running out of gas.

"No, I was not tired," he said matter of factly.

It was, to be fair, just the second time this season he's been used for three straight days.

For Papelbon, his trouble started with a one-out walk to Wil Myers. From there, Yangervis Solarte landed an RBI single, and Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf then singled to load the bases. That set up a bases-clearing double by Alexei Ramirez to end Papelbon's day.

The closer, soaked in sweat on a 96-degree day, walked slowly off the mound and to the dugout to a cascade of boos from Nationals fans. It was his first uneven outing in a while, but it was an ugly one and the crowd let him hear all about it.

"It boiled down to location. Coming in there in a situation where we've gotta preserve everything we can, every pitch matters in that situation," Papelbon said.

Kelley's homers were hit by Dickerson and Schimpf. Both players took advantage of similar mistakes.

"Just two pitches that weren't up enough," Kelley said. "Both balls were on the corners in the right direction, I just wanted them a few balls higher. I just didn't get them there. I was just looking at them and talking to some people. They were not bad pitches, but to those two guys, they like the ball in those spots. Just gotta be better right off the bat and execute better with the heater."

Kelley and Papelbon have both enjoyed solid seasons and have formed an above average late-innings duo. But that may not stop the Nationals from pulling off an aggressive move before the trade deadline. They have already shown strong interest in Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and seem intent on adding at least something to their relief corps.

How Kelley and Papelbon will be affected is unclear. It will depend, of course, on what caliber pitcher they acquire, if they choose to bring one in.

For now, however, the Nats bullpen is focused on bouncing back Tuesday when the team travels to Cleveland to play the first-place Indians.

"We come out and whip their butts. That's what we do," Kelley said. This is a great team. We've got a resilient bullpen. A little blip today, but we'll be right back out there on Tuesday."

[RELATED: Aaron Barrett suffers major setback in TJ recovery]

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