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2012 ASG: Strasburg tosses a shutout frame for NL

On Sunday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals write the first chapter of what promises to be an enduring second-half storyline for the National League East leaders. After making his first All-Star Game appearance on Tuesday, Strasburg will begin his crawl toward a supposed 160-inning limit in the third game of a four-game set with the Marlins at Marlins Park.

The Nationals have promised to shut down their burgeoning 23-year-old ace should he reach 160 innings pitched in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. But Strasburg has delivered on his seemingly limitless potential largely ahead of schedule, finishing the first half of the season with a 9-4 record, 2.82 ERA and an NL-leading 128 strikeouts. The hard-throwing righty also pitched one inning in the All-Star Game in Kansas City, surrendering one hit and one walk on 18 pitches.

Considering that work -- as well as the inning thrown by teammate and fellow All-Star Gio Gonzalez -- manager Davey Johnson elected to shuffle his starting rotation after the break. Rather than opening with Strasburg and Gonzalez, Johnson bumped up Jordan Zimmermann for the first game and sent Gonzalez to the mound for the second one on Saturday night. The Nats took the first game, 5-1, but failed to give Gonzalez sufficient run support in a 2-1 loss on Saturday.

"It's really kind of simple," Johnson said in explaining his plan for the rotation. "[Zimmermann's] been throwing the ball well and he's on regular rest. Gio, just the 11 pitches [in the All-Star Game], he gets three days' rest between starts, and [Strasburg] is on full rest. Pretty simple to put together. It's what I anticipated before the [All-Star Game]."

Johnson did say that while Strasburg is pitching outside of his normal spot in the rotation, he will not have any limitations on the mound since he is fully rested. Strasburg has faced the Marlins five times in his career, but only twice in South Florida and never in Marlins Park. In those two starts, Strasburg is 2-0 with no runs allowed on five hits in 12 innings. Strasburg also struck out 17 batters while walking just five in those two games.

In the first two games of the series, the Marlins didn't fare well against Zimmermann and Gonzalez -- or, for that matter, the Nats' bullpen. Miami managed just three runs on 13 hits, while striking out 20 times.

"This Washington team has been pitching well," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "They've got a great bullpen, and it goes down all the way to the starters. Everybody has to step it up against them, because one or two runs, you're going to be in trouble. They're not going to let too many runs in."

Nationals: Desmond on the brink of team history
• With four home runs in his last eight games, Ian Desmond's 17 dingers lead the Nationals. With one more, Desmond will set a new franchise record for homers by a shortstop in a single season. He is currently tied with Orlando Cabrera (17 as a Montreal Expo in 2003).

Marlins: Nolasco looking to build on experience against Nats
• Right-hander Ricky Nolasco will take the mound for the Marlins on Sunday with eight wins, one behind Mark Buehrle, who picked up his ninth on Saturday. In his last start on July 6 against the Cardinals, Nolasco allowed nine hits in six innings, but gave up just one unearned run to pick up the win. In his seven-year career with the Marlins, Nolasco is 9-3 against the Nationals, though he hasn't picked up a win against them at home since June 29, 2009.

Worth noting
• With the Nats sending left-hander Gonzalez to the mound on Saturday, Logan Morrison was held out of the starting lineup. The left-handed-hitting left fielder has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games, and is expected to be back on Sunday vs. Strasburg.

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