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Strasburg prepares for final home start

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Strasburg prepares for final home start

Thirteen times this year he's taken the mound at Nationals Park, knowing in each instance he'd have another opportunity to take the same mound again five or 10 days later.

But when Stephen Strasburg emerges from the first base dugout at 7:05 p.m. tonight, he'll do so with the knowledge he won't be allowed to make that stroll anymore in 2012.

Having been informed by team management last week he will be shut down following next Wednesday's start in New York, Strasburg finally has a clear view of the finish line on what will be remembered both as an equally remarkable and frustrating season for the young right-hander.

Remarkable because he returned from Tommy John surgery to post 15 wins (at least), a sub-3.00 ERA and more strikeouts than any pitcher in baseball. Frustrating because -- even though he's healthy and feels like he can continue to pitch -- the Nationals are shutting the 24-year-old down at the tail end of a pennant race for purely precautionary reasons.

So it could be an emotional night at Nationals Park when Strasburg faces the Marlins, the home crowd getting one final opportunity to watch their young ace in person this season.

Just don't expect the man on the mound to show any more emotion than he usually does.

"He's all-in," manager Davey Johnson said. "Every time he goes out, he's committed to be the best he can be. He probably puts that standard higher than I like it. So I don't see him ramping down to the last one of two, going at it any harder or any softer."

Indeed, Strasburg's motivation tonight likely won't have anything to do with his impending shutdown but with trying to move the Nationals one step closer to their first NL East title, not to mention making amends for his last start against the Marlins.

Only 10 days ago in Miami, Strasburg suffered perhaps the worst beating of his professional career, getting tagged for seven runs (five earned) and nine hits in five innings. The Nationals lost that game 9-0, their fifth consecutive loss, and the following day Johnson closed the doors of his clubhouse to hold a team meeting.

Since then, the Nationals are 8-1, beating their opponents by a collective score of 70-27.

Strasburg called that start "a big learning experience for me." Will he take what he learned and apply it to tonight's game?

The bigger challenge might be finding a way to rediscover success against a Marlins team lineup that has already faced him four times this season and eight times in his career. No other team has gone up against him as many times.

Whatever the result, when Strasburg retreats to the dugout at the end of his outing, surely he'll receive a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd that won't get a chance to say thanks again this year.

After a summer spent worrying about and debating the shutdown of a healthy pitcher, the end has finally arrived.

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Sammy Solis makes return for Nats, could be big for playoffs

Sammy Solis makes return for Nats, could be big for playoffs

There are a lot of reasons the Nationals like reliever Sammy Solis, beyond the obvious, that he's simply another good left-hander they can use in late-game spots. He's versatile with the ability to pitch multiple innings and he can also get both lefties and righties out. 

Solis holds lefties to a .193 batting average and right-handers to a .229 clip. As manager Dusty Baker has said before, he doesn't have to mix-and-match with Solis like he does with other left-handed relievers.

Tuesday night was the first time in a while that Baker got to call on Solis. The 28-year-old had just returned from the disabled list after recovering from left shoulder inflammation. His seventh inning spot against the Diamondbacks was his first since Aug. 15. After six weeks of rehab, including a setback, Solis is now back in the mix, just in time for the playoffs.

"He said he was ready. We threw him right in the fire," Baker said.

Solis came back firing his fastball at 93 and 94 miles per hour. His first pitch sailed high and out of the zone. He was nervous.

“I would say a few butterflies in there," he said. "But once I got past the first pitch it was all good. Right back to the comfort zone of being on the mound.”

Solis quickly found his command and got three outs on balls put in play. He threw 12 pitches to complete a perfect frame and a bridge to the eighth inning where Shawn Kelley took over.

That seventh inning could be a good place for Solis with Kelley thriving in the setup role and Mark Melancon firmly installed in the ninth. Baker clearly trusts Solis in high leverage spots, as evidenced by his decision to hand him one in his first game back.

“Honestly, I want to be there. I expect to be there, having my name called in later innings in a close game," Solis said.

Solis can get just about anyone out when he's pitching well. But having him in store for the NL Division Series against the Dodgers could prove paramount. Their lineup is potent and it's heavy on left-handers.

Between Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Joc Pederson, the Dodgers not only have balance, they have tons of power from the left side. Those four have a combined 80 homers this season and Solis has never allowed one to a left-handed batter through 97 plate appearances.

Solis saw the Dodgers twice this year - on June 20 and 21 - and struck out three through 1 2/3 innings. He feels like he can be a big help in that series.

"I really hope I’m in there especially with a left-handed dominant lineup like they have and some power as well. I just hope to be on [the playoff roster]" he said.

He doesn't have to worry about that one.

[RELATED: Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals]

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Lobaton, others step up in Nats' 1st game without Wilson Ramos

Lobaton, others step up in Nats' 1st game without Wilson Ramos

If guys like Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon play to their capabilities, the Nationals could make do without Wilson Ramos this postseason, at least on offense.

But even those guys can't do it all by themselves. The much more likely scenario involves a collective effort, one in which contributions from all-around lift the Nationals as a team and help compensate for the loss of one of their best and most consistent players. Collective efforts like Tuesday night when both of Ramos' replacements - Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino - chipped in on offense, Rendon provided the big swing and other bench players like Stephen Drew and Wilmer Difo made pivotal plays in their 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Lobaton called a strong game behind the dish, helping starter Max Scherzer adjust after allowing two runs in his first three innings to toss three scoreless after that. He then broke up Diamondbacks' starter Matt Koch's no-hitter in the sixth with a leadoff single. That ignited a four-run rally for the Nats, who took the lead and never relinquished it.

"I don't want to get a no-hitter," Lobaton said. "I got a good result and it was good for the team. We got a rally and we won."

"With [Ramos] going down for the year, that’s just heartbreaking," Scherzer said. "But Loby’s a guy that we need to step up and he’s the one who started off that inning."

Lobaton was replaced on the basepaths by Severino, who is faster than Lobaton, who happens to be dealing with a sore right ankle. Severino would later score after moving to third on walks drawn by Trea Turner and Difo. Severino came home on a sacrifice fly hit to left by Drew.

Lobaton and Severino will be a tag team partnership moving forward this season with Ramos out. They will need to spell each other and work together to try and recreate the production Ramos provided as a standout both at the plate and behind it.

On Tuesday, they pulled through.

"That's what they're going to have to do," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what they're going to have to do to contribute."

Their night also involved a lot of communication once Severino replaced Lobaton. A veteran with more experience catching the Nationals' pitching staff, Lobaton advised Severino throughout the game about how to call it. That's something Ramos often does for Lobaton.

"That is good for a guy that is not playing every time. It's the same with me, I always talk to Wily about the pitchers and what they are doing," Lobaton said. "I try to communicate more, like what he's been doing and what he's working on. So, I try to do the same with Sevi. This is working in the game, this is not. It can be more easy for him when he goes out."

Severino scored the first run and later in the frame Rendon drove in three more on a homer to left field off Randall Delgado. Rendon was pleased to see the foundation laid ahead of him that inning.

"That’s a great example, first day, stepping up,” he said. "Definitely frustration [with Ramos' injury]. You never like to see a teammate get hurt… obviously he’s going to be missed. He’s a big part of this lineup. But we have a lot of good guys who can fill in. It’s going to be awesome to watch.”

The Nationals have five more games before the regular season is over. To capture a World Seires, they will need to win 11 more after that. It won't always be as smooth asTuesday night, but the Nationals demonstrated well to themselves what it will take to get by without their star catcher.

[RELATED: Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals]

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