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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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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others