It appears as though Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has found a groove entering the home stretch of his 2014 campaign.
Over his past two starts, both wins, Strasburg -- who will take the mound Sunday in a rubber match against the Giants -- surrendered a combined one earned run on six hits over 15 innings. He worked both sides of the plate effectively with his fastball in each outing, which made hitters more susceptible to his notorious offspeed arsenal -- typically changeups to lefties and curveballs to righties.
"If he can command fastball to both sides of the plate, he can be really tough," manager Matt Williams said.
Strasburg has put together stretches like this earlier in the season for the first-place Nationals, who lead the National League East by a comfortable margin. In a two-start span from July 29 to Aug. 3, the right-hander allowed one earned run on seven hits over 14 innings. However, he followed that up with perhaps his worst start of the season five days later, when he gave up seven earned runs, tying a season high, on seven hits, including four home runs, against the Braves at Turner Field.
The lackluster performance marked a trend for Strasburg. At no point this season has the right-hander gone three straight starts without surrendering more than one earned run in an outing. On Sunday, he'll have a chance to achieve that feat when he faces off against right-hander Ryan Vogelsong at Nationals Park.
"The only thing you can really look to is how you were the last time out," Williams said. "But then again, it really doesn't matter anyway, because if you don't go out and make your pitches, you can get beat. So he has to, again, look at the last two [starts] and say 'OK, what has been the secret to my success? I need to continue to do that and make sure that I'm executing [in] all those quadrants and all the things we talk about.' But then let it go, because it's staring you in the face again [Sunday]."
Vogelsong, who is 7-9 with a 3.73 ERA, will look to lead the Giants to their third straight series victory. San Francisco remains locked in heated races for both the National League West and Wild Card.
Nationals: Schierholtz arrives in Washington
The Nationals selected the contract of outfielder Nate Schierholtz on Saturday and optioned prospect Michael Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse.
Schierholtz signed a Minor League contract with the organization Monday before arriving in Syracuse on Tuesday. The left-handed slugger went 3-for-19 with a home run and four RBIs in four games for the Chiefs.
Schierholtz will help fill the hole in the Nationals' bench created when fellow lefty Nate McLouth underwent season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this week.
"For me, it's just an exciting opportunity to get back to a winning atmosphere. And that's what it's all about," Schierholtz said. "I'm just excited for a fresh start here. I've kind of put the first half behind me and I'm ready to start in a winning environment."
Giants: Lopez appearing earlier in games as postseason nears
Javier Lopez was summoned from the Giants' bullpen to pitch before the seventh inning only once in his first 38 outings. By contrast, Lopez had appeared in the sixth inning or earlier seven times in his last 14 games entering Saturday.
The difference can be attributed to the calendar. The Giants' push to reach the postseason magnifies Lopez's role as a situational left-hander, since those situations become more critical.
Friday provided an example. Lopez, the first man out of the bullpen, inherited a 4-2 lead with one out and a runner on first base in the sixth inning. With the tying run at the plate, Lopez struck out Adam LaRoche and induced Ian Desmond's fielder's-choice grounder.
"I would say the appearances, not just for myself but for everybody in the 'pen, are probably more high-stress than what would be offered in April and May," Lopez said Saturday. "It's because we're playing a 35-game season."
• Nationals starter Doug Fister told the media Friday that he underwent a minor surgery to remove skin cancer from his neck. The right-hander said he is good moving forward and will not miss any time because of the procedure.
• Nationals top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito was shut down for the remainder of the 2014 season as part of the organization's protocol regarding players rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, MLB.com confirmed Saturday.
• After a dismal performance Saturday night in Washington, Giants starter Tim Lincecum has now surrendered 34 earned runs on 48 hits over 32 2/3 innings in his last seven starts against the Nationals, stretching back to 2010.