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The Thursday Takeaway
Merry Strasmas, Nationals fans. With the team coming off a disappointing three-game skid, Stephen Strasburg took the mound against the Pirates and played stopper with results strikingly similar to his major-league debut.

Back on June 8, 2010, Strasburg surpassed even the loftiest of expectations by striking out 14 batters without issuing a walk over seven innings in his first career start. Strasburg’s victims that night were the Pirates, who managed only two runs on four hits, one of which was a Delwyn Young homer.

Facing Pittsburgh for the second time in his career, this one at PNC Park, Strasburg only worked six innings, but those 18 outs were enough to leave a lasting impression. The hard-throwing righty at one point fanned seven consecutive batters, en route to 13 total strikeouts. He walked the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth, then calmly blew away Garrett Jones with a 96 mph fastball on his 103rd pitch of the night.

Strasburg is now 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA on the season, and—with 51 strikeouts against only 10 walks—he appears to have regained the prowess that made him the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, the top prospect in baseball at the time, and a pitcher for whom the sky truly is the limit.

With the 4-2 win, the 19-12 Nationals held on to their slim division lead over the Braves and Marlins. Next, they will travel to Cincinnati for a three-game series against the Reds that begins at 7:10 p.m. ET tonight.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • Jesus (Montero) returns to the Bronx this weekend, an event sure to rub salt in the wounds of Yankees fans still lamenting the loss of Michael Pineda to a torn labrum. In his first year with the Mariners, the 22-year-old has a solid .268 batting average to go with four home runs, but he has walked only three times in 117 plate appearances. Since Miguel Olivo landed on the disabled list with a groin injury, Montero has been pressed into significant time behind the plate, where his defense remains a work in progress. With the benefit of a full scouting report, expect the Yankees to be aggressive on the basepaths against their former top prospect. The series opener pits Felix Hernandez versus Hiroki Kuroda tonight (7:05 p.m. ET), but don’t forget to check back in on Sunday, when Andy Pettitte will make his 2012 debut against Blake Beavan (1:05 p.m. ET).
  • Everyone is talking about Josh Hamilton and Carlos Beltran being unstoppable of late, but J.J. Hardy’s recent surge has been largely ignored. The Orioles shortstop is 15-for-43 (.348) with five home runs so far in May, after batting just .184 during the month of April. In the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader, Ryan Flaherty, Hardy, and Nick Markakis started the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back-to-back jacks. The last team to accomplish the feat? That would be the 2007 Brewers—whose number-two hitter that night was, you guessed it, J.J. Hardy. He’ll look to stay hot tonight (7:05 p.m. ET) in a favorable matchup with Jeremy Hellickson, against whom Hardy is 3-for-10 with a homer and only one strikeout.
  • Mike Minor’s last two starts have not been pretty, as the lefty was touched up for seven runs in 6 1/3 innings by the Pirates on April 30 and allowed eight runs in five frames to the Rockies on May 5. Tonight (8:15 p.m ET), Minor will run headlong into the hottest hitting team in baseball—the St. Louis Cardinals, who have combined for a remarkable .304/.374/.525 slash while slugging 16 homers in nine games this month. If there is any consolation for Minor, it’s that his opponent, Jaime Garcia, is also coming off a rough outing, as he was charged with six runs in as many innings while losing to the Astros on May 5.
  • If Trevor Cahill had any reservations about the trade that sent him from Oakland to Arizona, they surely faded when he discovered that the Giants are now in his division. The sinkerballing righty excelled in interleague action against San Francisco, going 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA and 21-to-5 K/BB ratio in 27 2/3 innings over four starts. On Saturday night (8:10 p.m. ET), he’ll get his first crack at the Giants as a Diamondback, while Matt Cain takes the mound for San Francisco.
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rbrianc
5/11
Angels-Rangers? Starting off with CJ Wilson vs. Yu Darvish? How did that slip by?
statsrath
5/11
Trying to spread the wealth around different teams, and I've mentioned the Angels and Rangers a bunch this week. That's certainly a series to watch this weekend, though, especially with the spring training encounters between Yu and Albert (http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ti-brown_albert_pujols_angels_spring_training_022012).
rbrianc
5/11
not to mention the Napoli-CJ twitter riff. These were the two franchises that were the most discussed during the winter finally squaring off, after both have gotten off April in opposite directions.