Stephen Strasburg hasn't gotten off to the start he'd hoped, though the Washington Nationals haven't exactly been lighting things up for him offensively.
The slumping Nationals will try to provide Strasburg with some rare support Thursday night when he looks to end the longest winless drought of his career against a San Diego Padres team that has been tough to beat at Petco Park.
While its starters have done very well with a 1.82 ERA, Washington (21-19) has lost four of five thanks mainly to an offense that has averaged 2.0 runs and hit .207 with 46 strikeouts in those games.
The Nationals are also 6 for 45 (.133) with runners in scoring position over that span after going hitless in nine chances during a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Adam LaRoche provided their only run over the past 22 innings with a solo homer in the fourth.
"I don't know if they were trying to do too much instead of just hitting the ball and putting it in play," manager Davey Johnson said. "But we'll figure it out. We've got the guys to do it.'
It certainly hasn't helped that Bryce Harper has missed two starts since hurting his chin and shoulder slamming into the right-field wall trying to make a catch in Monday's win. Harper, who leads the team in batting average (.300), homers (10) and RBIs (21), appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth Wednesday and hopes to return to the lineup for the opener of this four-game series.
The Nationals are searching for any kind of offensive spark to back Strasburg (1-5, 3.10 ERA), having totaled 13 runs of support over his career-worst streak of seven consecutive starts without a win.
Washington's 2.74 run-support-average during the right-hander's starts ranks among the lowest in baseball.
Strasburg has also lost five straight decisions over his last seven outings despite posting a 3.61 ERA with 48 strikeouts over 42 1-3 innings.
The San Diego native yielded four runs and seven hits over four innings in a 6-1 loss to the Padres on May 15, 2012, though he'll make his first career start at Petco Park in front of friends and family.
"It's always good to be in your hometown. Everybody likes to do that," Johnson told the league's official website. "He is doing well, we just haven't scored him many runs. If we score him some runs, then he will be fine."
The Padres (18-21) have been more than fine at Petco Park, winning nine of their last 10 there. They've also won 13 of 19 overall after taking two in a row in Baltimore to wrap up their five-game road trip.
San Diego ranks near the bottom of the majors with a .246 batting average, but was 6 for 17 with runners in scoring position against the Orioles and has hit .286 in those situations over its last 19 games.
"We've been playing well the last three weeks,' said manager Bud Black, whose club bounced back after losing three straight at Tampa Bay. "Things have turned in a good way."
Black should feel good about sending scheduled starter Edinson Volquez (3-3, 5.15) to the mound. Since dropping three straight starts to open the season, the right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA over his last five.
Volquez has made three starts against Washington, with his most recent being his best. He struck out seven and allowed one run over seven innings before leaving without a decision in a 2-1 win April 26, 2012.
The Padres have dropped five of six to the Nationals at Petco Park.
The Associated Press News Service
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