After twice getting scratched with tightness in his right forearm, Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the Nationals on Saturday night against the Marlins.
Considering his team's position in the playoff chase, his return comes at an opportune time.
The Nationals held off official elimination from the NL East race with Friday's 8-0 win, but their focus has long since shifted to the race for the league's second Wild Card spot. They trail the Reds by five games with eight to play after taking the first two of their current four-game set. Cincinnati beat the Pirates, 6-5, in 10 innings on Friday.
"We're going to keep fighting," center fielder Denard Span said. "Mathematically, it hasn't looked good for the last month or so, but I've seen a lot of crazy things happen. I've been a part of a lot of crazy things."
Washington is a Major League best 29-11 since Aug. 9, a run Strasburg will try to keep going against Tom Koehler and Miami.
Strasburg (7-9, 2.96 ERA) hasn't pitched since Sept. 8, when he gave up four runs in six innings in a 6-4 win over the Marlins. He was supposed to pitch last Friday but was scratched and pushed back to Thursday. That plan was scrapped when Strasburg had trouble getting loose and felt continued tightness on Wednesday. He wanted to pitch and was cleared by doctors, but manager Davey Johnson took the cautious route.
"I wouldn't say I'm too concerned, because when I get nice and loose, it feels 100 percent. The tough thing is getting loose," Strasburg said at the time. "I think it's just part of it being September and that's pretty much it."
Strasburg has been the subject of much discussion and debate over the course of his young career, from last year's late-season shutdown to his recent issues.
"I think it's who he is," Johnson said. "He's our No. 1 pitcher. Anything that goes on with No. 1 pitchers, high Draft pick, No. 1, there's just a lot of interest. Same thing with [Bryce] Harper. Anything happens to him, everybody analyzes it every which way. It's just part of it."
Strasburg got the go-ahead for Saturday after completing his pregame throwing without incident on Friday.
He'll pitch opposite Koehler (3-10, 4.51), who is coming off perhaps the finest outing of his career. The right-hander tossed eight scoreless innings against the Mets on Sunday at Citi Field, giving up three hits and no walks while striking out five, although he didn't receive a decision in what ended up as a 1-0 Marlins loss in 12 innings.
Koehler has two more starts to continue establishing himself in the Marlins' plans. The 27-year-old's future could be in the rotation or the bullpen, depending on performance.
"For me, I want to do whatever they feel will help the team out the most," Koehler said. "If that's starting or relieving, that's what I want to do. I enjoy starting. I enjoy controlling the game. At the same time, I still enjoy coming in during an impact [relief] situation. For me, it's really just about being here.
"The way I look at it, it's pitching, whether I go six or seven, or one."
Marlins: Taking a break
Manager Mike Redmond is looking to give some of his regulars a rest before the final few games of the season. On Friday, it was rookie outfielder Christian Yelich.
The 21-year-old was coming off an 0-for-5 with three strikeouts performance on Thursday and is in a 4-for-22 slide. He is hitting .279/.360/.377 in 55 games, with three homers and 13 RBIs.
"That's baseball," Yelich said. "There are so many ups and downs in this game. I'm just trying to find it right now, a little bit. I'm not feeling great up there right now, and that's kind of part of it."
• Koehler has a cut on his left (non-pitching) hand due to a weight room accident, but it won't affect him on the mound.
Nationals: Honoring Davey
Unless the Nationals complete an unlikely comeback to make the postseason, Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Marlins also will be Johnson's last game managing at Nationals Park. The 70-year-old is retiring after the season.
The team planned to honor Johnson before Saturday's game with a pregame ceremony, but rain forced a postponement until Sunday. The ceremony will include a video montage highlighting Johnson's accomplishments during his long career in baseball. Through Friday, he has led the Nats to a 221-178 (.554) record over three seasons. But Johnson isn't too excited about the planned festivities.
"I heard they're giving me a little something on the [video] screen, that's what I hear," he said on Thursday. "If it's anything more than five minutes, my back may go out. We've got a ballgame to win."
• The Nationals are 8-0 against the Marlins at home this season and have outscored them 37-7.
• Koehler gave up six runs in five innings against the Nationals on Aug. 29 in Washington.