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Strasburg explains his renewed focus for 2013 season

Stephen Strasburg knows a thing or two about pitching in San Diego County.

The Nationals right-hander was born in San Diego, played his high school ball at West Hills High in Santee and spent three seasons at San Diego State before being selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

But, at the highest level, Strasburg has yet to pitch in his hometown. That will change Thursday night when he toes the rubber against the Padres in the first game of a four-game series at Petco Park.

"It's always good to be in your hometown. Everybody likes to do that," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "He is doing well, we just haven't scored him many runs. If we score him some runs, then he will be fine."

Strasburg was on his way to what might have been his best start of the season on Saturday. He struck out seven and gave up only one hit through four innings, and he needed just 53 pitches to get there.

But with two outs in the fifth inning, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman committed his sixth throwing error of the season, and Strasburg's day completely unraveled. He threw 42 pitches and gave up four runs that inning, all of them unearned, spoiling what could have been a special start for the young Washington ace.

Opposite Strasburg will be right-hander Edinson Volquez and a Padres club that has won 13 of its last 19 games.

Volquez has been fighting to rebound from a shaky start to the season. His first three outings were disappointing, as he ran out to an 0-3 record and an 11.68 ERA. But he's gone 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA over his last five starts dating back to April 19, and the Padres have gone 3-2 in those games.

San Diego's most recent loss with Volquez on the mound was certainly not his fault. He threw six solid innings against the Rays on Friday, exiting in line for his fourth-straight win after allowing two earned runs on three hits in six innings with four walks and three strikeouts.

But the Padres lost, 6-3, as the Rays scored four runs in the seventh against San Diego's bullpen. Volquez threw 100 pitches, 56 for strikes, in that outing.

"Volky hung in there ... it was a little maddening in that he was behind in the count a lot," Padres manager Bud Black said Friday. "They didn't get many hits off him. They didn't hit many balls hard off him."

Nationals: Harper hopes to return
Outfielder Bryce Harper was limited to a pinch-hit appearance on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, but the club is hopeful he'll be ready to make his return in San Diego.

Harper injured himself crashing into the right field wall at Dodger Stadium, while tracking down a fly ball Monday night.

"He is going to be fine. I wasn't worried about the concussion. He got hit in the chin," Johnson said. "He has some aches and pain, but he is young."

Padres: Ross ready to get back in rotation
Tyson Ross, who missed 14 games this season with a partial dislocation of his left shoulder, returned from the disabled list May 5 and made his first relief appearance on Saturday, with four scoreless innings against the Rays. Ross has been relegated to the bullpen until his non-throwing shoulder, which he hurt when he recorded his first Major League hit, is considered healthy enough for him to resume swinging a bat.

Whenever that happens, he'll become a starting pitcher again.

"It's been good," Ross said. "I'm still able to pitch with it. It was nice to get some work the other day. I was happy to get an extended outing. I've just been getting treatment, doing exercises and I've been feeling good. ... We want to push it, so I'll see the doctors when we can get home. Hopefully they can extend my leash a little."

• Left-hander Clayton Richard (intestinal virus) is scheduled to make a Minor League rehab start Thursday for Triple-A Tucson against Iowa. He is expected to throw between 75 and 90 pitches.

Worth noting
• Volquez has made three previous starts against Washington, only one of them with San Diego. His last win against the Nationals came on July 6, 2008, for the Reds.

• The Nationals are 16-2 when scoring first this season compared to 5-17 when their opponents get on the board first. They've been outscored, 22-16, in the first inning this year, but have outscored their opponents, 21-10, in the second.

• In three at-bats against Strasburg, Padres outfielder Will Venable is 3-for-3 with a single, a double and a triple. Comments