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Nats minor league awards at the break

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Nats minor league awards at the break

Syracuse Chiefs (44-46, 9th in International League)Best Hitter: OF Corey Brown (.296 BA, 19 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB)
Best Pitcher: LHP Zach Duke (10-3, 3.68 ERA, 102.2 IP)Biggest Surprise: LHP John Lannan (6-8, 4.60 ERA, 1.52 WHIP)

The Nationals acquired Brown along with Henry Rodriguez in a late 2010 trade that sent Josh Willingham to the Oakland Athletics. In his second season in the Nats organization, Brown has thrived and leads the Chiefs in homers, RBI, walks, total bases, and stolen bases.

Duke was signed to a minor league deal back in March and has put together a strong first half to 2012. Duke leads the Chiefs rotation with ten wins and is tied with Yunesky Maya for the best ERA among starters.

Lannan falls in the bad surprise category as his first half struggles were not anticipated by many. He was thought before the season to be the fifth starter on the big league club and hasnt maintained his trade value in Triple-A. The second half of the year will be important for his future with the club.

Harrisburg Senators (48-41, 4th in Eastern League)Best Hitter: OF Chris Rahl (.299 BA, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 20 SB)Best Pitcher: LHP Danny Rosenbaum (7-6, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 114.1 IP)Biggest Surprise: OF Destin Hood (.223 BA, 2 HR, 28 RBI)

Rahl, a William & Mary product, has been the teams best position player with a team-leading ten home runs and 49 runs and 20 stolen bases which ranks third on the squad. Rosenbaum has fallen off of late with a 6.27 ERA in June and a poor start to July, but overall he has had one of the best 2012s of any Nats pitching prospects.

Hood also comes in as an unfortunate surprise as the former second round pick looked poised for big things in 2012. He hit 83 RBI in 2011 and had a .809 OPS, but this year his production has fallen off dramatically. Some consider him as one of the teams best prospects, but unless he turns thing around this season he may lose that distinction.

Potomac Nationals (41-49, 6th in Carolina League)Best Hitter: C David Freitas (.286 BA, 5 HR, 39 RBI, 34 BB)Best Pitcher: RHP Neil Holland (4-1, 1.66 ERA, .189 BAA)Biggest Surprise: LHP Robbie Ray (3-5, 4.87 ERA, 27 BB, 64.2 IP)

Freitas has been the best overall hitter in a Senators lineup that has struggled for the most part in 2012. The 23-year-old catcher ranks third in homers, second in RBI, and second in walks. Holland, a relief pitcher, has been a bright spot late in games with the teams starting rotation having an off year across the board. His 1.66 ERA is the lowest on the team and he also has a 0.87 WHIP to boast.

The Senators have also not had any huge good surprises this season which leaves Ray as its biggest unseen development. Ray was stellar in 2011 with a 3.13 ERA in 20 starts at Single-A Hagerstown. This year, however, the 20-year-old has had a rough start and hasnt shown the potential and promise everyone thought he had realized last season.

Hagerstown Suns (56-33, 2nd in South Atlantic League)Best Hitter: 3B Matthew Skole (.280 BA, 21 HR, 73 RBI, 79 BB, .987 OPS)Best Pitcher: RHP Alex Meyer (6-4, 3.32 ERA, 98 SO, 84.0 IP)Biggest Surprise: OF Steven Souza, Jr. (.284 BA, 15 HR, 63 RBI, .901 OPS)

Skole has developed from a 2011 5th round pick out of Georgia Tech into perhaps the best hitter at the low-A minor league level. He leads all South Atlantic League hitters in homers, RBI, walks, and ranks second in OPS. The 22-year-old has to see a promotion soon as he has three home runs already in just seven games in July.

Meyer has come around quickly after being drafted 23rd overall by the Nationals in 2011. The 22-year-old flame-thrower has the starting rotations best ERA and is striking out batters at a rate of 10.5 per nine innings. He should see time in Double-A soon and could develop into a top-shelf prospect.

Souza, Jr. gets the nod as biggest surprise only because Skole and Meyer have already been mentioned. Still, his first half of the season has been spectacular and a huge leap for the former third round pick. He played last year at Potomac and since his demotion has raised his batting average over .55 points and already has more homers and RBI than the year before. He should get another shot at High-A ball soon unless the Nats see Double-A as his logical next step.

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Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

WASHINGTON -- On Dec. 19, 2014, the San Diego Padres traded pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later -- it would be Trea Turner -- to the Washington Nationals in a three-team deal that included the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since that trade, the Padres have posted a record of 160-215 while the Nationals are 208-166 after they won 3-0 Saturday as Stephen Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 batters in seven innings and the Washington staff fanned 17.

As a reminder of what could have been, Ross (2-0, 5.32) makes the start Sunday against San Diego right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) in the finale of the three-game series at Nationals Park.

First-place Washington is 30-18 while last-place San Diego is 18-33.

Ross was drafted by the Padres in the first round out of his California high school in 2011. Ross is 2-0 in his career against San Diego with a 2.25 ERA in two starts. Last year, he went six innings and allowed six hits and three earned runs in a win against the Padres.

"I was not around Joe at all," said Andy Green, in his second year as the San Diego manager. "We saw him last year; he is a sinkerballer."

The Padres did acquire All-Star first baseman Wil Myers in the trade.

The Nationals have scored a record 62 runs in the four starts made this year by Ross, more than any other pitcher has received in his first four starts of a season. That included a 23-5 victory at home April 30 against the New York Mets and a 10-1 win Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners.

Ross, who broke into the majors with the Nationals in 2015, was in the rotation last season and made 19 starts before going on the disabled list. He was in line to be the No. 5 starter, but began the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

Chacin is 3-2 in six starts against Washington and has a 3.09 ERA. He has made three career starts at Nationals Park and is 1-1 with a 0.45 ERA while allowing only one run in 20 innings.

The Nationals played their second game in a row Saturday without second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was ill.

Nationals bench coach Chris Speier, filling in for manager Dusty Baker, said before the game that Murphy was ill. Murphy entered the day hitting .316 with nine homers and 33 RBIs.

"He's available. This is Dusty's theory: Usually when somebody comes in and says, 'I'm ready,' then he usually gives him one more day. But he's available," Speier told reporters before the game.

Murphy entered Saturday seventh in the National League in hits with 56, just ahead of teammate Bryce Harper (55). Murphy was also among the league leaders in multi-hit games and road batting average.

Washington shortstop Turner, drafted by the Padres in the first round out of North Carolina State, had two hits, including a homer, Friday and was 1-for-4 Saturday.

Another hot hitter for Washington is center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who hit a homer for the second day in a row Saturday and has four homers in his last 14 games.

"I'm looking for my pitch and staying in my zone," Taylor said. "I'm not trying to do too much."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

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Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg downplayed any notion that starting pitchers on the same team attempt to top each other. On the mound one day after Max Scherzer overwhelmed the San Diego Padres, the right-hander did just that.

Strasburg dominated San Diego with a career-high 15 strikeouts while allowing three hits over seven innings as the Washington Nationals beat the Padres 3-0 on Saturday.

Strasburg (6-1) singled and scored Washington's first run on Bryce Harper's RBI fielder's choice grounder in the third inning. Michael A. Taylor hit a two-run homer for the second consecutive game.

San Diego's lineup offered little resistance against Strasburg the day after Scherzer struck out 13 in Washington's 5-1 win.

"Piece of cake, huh?" cracked Chris Speier, who is serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California.

San Diego had six hits and struck out 31 times -- 17 Saturday -- in the two losses.

"I know when you have those type of combinations," Speier said of Strasburg and Scherzer, "they feed off each other. There's a little competitiveness within the starting pitchers that is very healthy. . It's win-win for us."

With four pitches working, Strasburg struck out the side in the third and sixth and had at least two in each of the first six innings. His single matched the Padres' hit total through five innings.

Strasburg previously struck out 14 batters twice including his Major League debut on June 8, 2010. He set a personal best by setting down Franchy Cordero in the seventh.

"It's pretty cool, but there's another game 5, 6 days from now," said the low-key pitcher. "Maybe I'll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow."

The San Diego native is 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA for his career against his hometown team.

Matt Albers pitched the eighth and Koda Glover the ninth for his fifth save.

Clayton Richard (3-6) followed up his complete-game victory over the Diamondbacks on May 21 by allowing three runs and 10 hits over six innings.

One out after Anthony Rendon's leadoff single in the sixth, Taylor drove a pitch over the wall in center field for his fourth homer of the season.

"You stay in a one-run game, momentum's different," a frustrated Richard stated. "We have a different attitude, it changes a lot of things."

Washington has won two straight and five of six.

San Diego is 5-13 since May 9.

San Diego loaded the bases with one out in the first following a single, a throwing error by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Cory Spangenberg's four-pitch walk. Strasburg ended the threat by striking out Austin Hedges on three pitches.

The Padres had two singles in the sixth, but Strasburg recorded strikeouts for the final two outs.

"Sometimes with the best pitchers in the game if you don't get them in the first three innings they get harder and harder to get to," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We had our chance in the first we didn't take advantage of it."

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