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Stephen Strasburg And Jason Heyward Face Off As Nats Host The Braves

(Sports Network) - The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg hasn't faced many hiccups since reaching the majors, but the 22-year-old phenom wasn't at the top of his game when he first faced the Braves.

Strasburg will look for better results tonight than that June outing in tonight's opener of a three-game series at Nationals Park versus the Atlanta Braves, who are coming off their first series loss to a National League club in almost three months.

The right-handed Strasburg is 5-2 with a 2.32 earned run average this season, but one of those losses came in Atlanta on June 28. Facing the NL East rivals for the first time, Strasburg gave up a career-high four runs, three of them earned, over 6 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts, leaving Braves manager Bobby Cox impressed.

"He's as advertised," Cox told Atlanta's website after the game. "He's dynamite. He's something really good for the game of baseball, something that special. He's got maybe the best changeup for a first-year player that I've ever seen. Everybody talks about his fastball, but his changeup goes straight down at 90 or 91 mph. It looks like some of the guys' best heaters going straight down."

The top pick of the 2009 draft, Strasburg has won three straight starts and is coming off Wednesday's victory over the Reds. He allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk over 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven to give him 75 through his first 54 1/3 innings. Strasburg also failed to reach seven innings pitched for a sixth start in a row.

Strasburg and 20-year-old Braves rookie Jason Heyward figure to engage in many battles over the course of their careers, but Heyward missed that first meeting due to injury. The outfielder comes into this game hitting .276 with 11 homers and 48 RBI, and is batting .486 over a nine-game hit streak.

Heyward had a pair of hits in Sunday's l5-4 loss to the Marlins, including a single with one out in the top of the 11th inning that loaded the bases. However, Nate McLouth hit into a double play and the Marlins won it in the bottom of the frame on Wes Helms' RBI single off Jesse Chavez.

Atlanta has lost six of 11 since going 17-8 from June 12-July 12 and the division leaders dropped their first set to an NL team since losing two of three to the Phillies on May 7-9. The club had been 12-0-4 in series versus the NL since.

The Braves' last series loss of any kind came in Chicago, where they were swept in three games by the White Sox from June 22-24.

"It's never good to drop a series, especially when they're within the division," Chipper Jones told Atlanta's website. "But we played well. A bounce here, a bounce there, we sweep the series. If we keep playing solid baseball, we're going to win a ton of games."

Atlanta will try to rebound behind a young gun of its own in 23-year-old Tommy Hanson, who is 0-1 with a 3.71 ERA over his last three starts and just 1-3 in his last four decisions.

Hanson did not factor into the decision of Wednesday's game versus the Padres, allowing two runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings. On the season, the 23-year- old is 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA.

Hanson is 2-0 with a 2.94 ERA in five career starts versus the Nationals, but he did get a no-decision in Washington on May 5 after allowing four runs and nine hits over six frames of work.

He'll look to stay unbeaten against a Nats club that was swept in three games over the weekend by the Brewers and has lost seven of its last nine. Washington committed a pair of errors in Sunday's 8-3 loss, leading to five unearned runs allowed by losing starter Ross Detwiler.

"We did not have a good day defensively today," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "We certainly didn't get it done today, but Detwiler has to pitch around [the errors]. I thought he did a good job and minimized the damage. We're just having growing pains."

Adam Dunn had two hits and an RBI as his name continues to surface in trade rumors leading up to Saturday's non-waiver trade deadline. The slugging first baseman is hitting .281 with 23 homers and 63 RBI on the season, but has gone deep just once in his last 12 games while hitting .250 (10-for-40) in that span.

The Braves and Nationals have split six meetings so far this year, with Atlanta taking two of three at home in late June.