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ATL@WSH: Strasburg whiffs nine en route to the win

WASHINGTON -- Pitching with an extra day of rest thanks to Friday night's rainout, Stephen Strasburg didn't need much help from the Nationals' offense on Saturday.

The right-hander fanned nine over seven shutout innings, while catcher Jesus Flores' fifth-inning solo home run and Xavier Nady's pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh gave Washington a 2-0 win over the Braves at Nationals Park.

Strasburg (6-1) allowed just four hits and no walks in helping the Nationals snap a three-game losing skid. He threw 90 pitches, 59 for strikes.

"That's him," manager Davey Johnson said. "I've seen that time and time again; low pitch counts, [he] strikes out a bunch of people, and pitches that kind of ballgame."

Atlanta right-hander Brandon Beachy carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning before shortstop Ian Desmond beat out a grounder up the middle for an infield single. Beachy pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits with six strikeouts and four walks.

With the loss, the Braves fell three games back of the first-place Nats in the National League East.

"That's the best I've seen [Strasburg] throw," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He basically did anything he wanted today. He was pounding the ball down in the zone and mixing it up. He was putting his curveball where he wanted it. When you throw that hard and you can command it like that, it makes it tough on hitters."

Strasburg was dominant from the start, striking out the first four batters he faced. His biggest challenge came in the third inning, when left fielder Jose Constanza ripped a two-out double into left field. The next batter, center fielder Michael Bourn, scorched a single into left, but Constanza was held at third base. Four pitches later, Strasburg forced third baseman Martin Prado to pop up to Desmond, ending the inning.

From there, Strasburg cruised through 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth.

"I felt like I was getting stronger as the game went on," Strasburg said.

Two batters after Flores' homer in the fifth landed in the Braves' bullpen in left-center field, center fielder Bryce Harper came to bat and hammered the ball into left field. The ever-eager Harper seemed set on stretching the hit into a double as soon as he left the batter's box, but Constanza quickly cut off the ball and made an easy throw to second base to nab Harper and end the inning.

After Danny Espinosa walked and stole second in the seventh inning, right-hander Chad Durbin entered in relief with one out. He lasted just one batter, walking Flores, and left-hander Jonny Venters then entered. Nady was sent out as a pinch-hitter for Strasburg, and on a 1-1 count, McCann allowed a passed ball when Venters' pitch hit him on the left knee. After McCann exited, Nady lined a double into deep right on a 3-2 pitch, scoring Espinosa.

"It was a strange at-bat, with McCann getting hurt and then [backup catcher David] Ross needed a new glove," Nady said. "It felt like the longest at-bat of my life."

Flores returned to the lineup after missing three games with a strained right hamstring and finished 1-for-2 with the homer and a walk. Right fielder Michael Morse made his season debut after missing the first 51 games with a strained lat muscle. Morse grounded out to shortstop in each of his four at-bats.

"Every at-bat, I felt more comfortable," Morse said. "The first at-bat, I kind of felt a little jumpy, so I tried to slow it down next at-bat. Finally, my last at-bat I felt kind of like where I should be."

Strasburg exited the game after the seventh inning, and Sean Burnett came on for the eighth. After retiring right fielder Jason Heyward and shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who was making his Major League debut), Burnett allowed two infield singles before getting Bourn to foul out to left.

The Nats went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth before Tyler Clippard came on to pitch the ninth. Clippard, who has recorded four straight save opportunities while blossoming in his end-of-game role, closed the game by forcing Prado to fly out to right before striking out Ross and second baseman Dan Uggla.

"I just feel comfortable out on the mound, whatever the situation is," Clippard said. "Even before I was getting save opportunities, I was kind of pitching pretty good. I just feel good out there right now."

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