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STL@WSH: Strasburg strikes out seven in seven frames

The first time the Braves and Nationals met this season, from April 12-14 in Washington, Atlanta earned a three-game sweep. The Nationals, however, were not overly impressed.

"I still don't think that they are better than us. They are hot right now," second baseman Danny Espinosa said after the Braves finished the sweep with a 9-0 win. "They have come back on people. They are playing well. It doesn't last forever. So I'm not worried about it. I'm going to be real confident the next 16 games."

The first of those 16 matchups comes on Monday night, when the National League East rivals open a four-game set at Turner Field. The pitching matchup will feature Washington's Stephen Strasburg and Atlanta's Julio Teheran.

The sweep over the Nationals was part of a 10-game winning streak for the Braves, but they have cooled off dramatically since, losing seven of 10 going into their game against the Tigers on Sunday night. Washington came out of a rough patch to take three of four games from the Reds and move within three games of Atlanta in the division.

"They're in front of us. They're playing awfully good," manager Davey Johnson said. "We come down there and we got the right matchups going, so it should be a great series."

Strasburg (1-4, 3.16 ERA) will try to snap a four-start losing streak, during which his offense and defense have not provided him with much help. But the right-hander also has hurt himself with some early-game struggles.

Strasburg owns a 10.80 ERA in the first inning, when opponents have hit .360 against him. On Wednesday against the Cardinals, he needed 26 pitches to get through a three-run first that included three hits, a walk and an error. Over the next six innings, he held St. Louis scoreless on two hits, with no walks and six strikeouts, averaging 14 pitches per frame.

"Stras, the first inning, he was throwing good, but he was just up with everything," Johnson said. "Then he started pitching, and he made it look easy."

Strasburg also took a loss against the Braves on April 13, although he gave up only two unearned runs in six innings and struck out seven.

A day earlier, Teheran made his first career start against the Nationals and gave up four runs in six innings for a no-decision. All of that damage came in the first two frames.

Teheran (1-0, 5.48) logged his first big league quality start on Tuesday against the Rockies, battling through extremely cold conditions at Coors Field to hold Colorado to one run in seven innings. He threw 70 of his 90 pitches for strikes.

"He did a nice job," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Teheran that day. "They got a run early off him, but then he settled down and gave us seven innings. We were able to add on some runs late in the game and help him out.

"I'll tell you one thing he did really, really well was every time we scored a run, he got a shutdown inning and got us back into the dugout so we could keep swinging the bats. That's nice to see."

Nationals: Ramos set for return
• Catcher Wilson Ramos, who has been on the disabled list since April 14 with a left hamstring strain, is expected to be activated for Monday's game. Ramos played rehab games with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday and Saturday and went 2-for-4 with a double.

Ramos was hitting .300 (6-for-20) with two home runs and a .991 OPS in six games before his injury while alternating starts with Kurt Suzuki. With Ramos out and Jhonatan Solano taking his place on the roster, Suzuki has been in the lineup for all but one game.

• Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, also on the DL with a left hamstring injury, expects to return on Friday when the Nationals start a series in Pittsburgh. Zimmerman plans to work out with Class A Potomac on Monday, then play in rehab games the next two days.

His return means that 22-year-old Anthony Rendon, who was called up in Zimmerman's absence, likely will return to the Minors after the Atlanta series.

Braves: Simmons getting in gear
• Shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit .188 with a .259 on-base percentage through his first 15 games but is 8-for-25 (.320) in seven games since. He has spent two of the last three games back in the leadoff spot, where had had started his first four games but played sparingly since.

• Since returning from the disabled list on Tuesday, first baseman Freddie Freeman is 4-for-22 (.182) with one double and two RBIs. He hit .412 with a double, a home run and seven RBIs in five games before going on the DL.

Worth noting
• The Nationals went 5-4 at Turner Field last season.

• All 11 earned runs Strasburg has allowed this season have come in either the first or sixth innings. In innings two through five (20 total), the opposition has batted .143 against him, with 18 strikeouts.

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