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WASHINGTON (AP) — Stephen Strasburg took over the league lead in strikeouts and gave up only two hits through six scoreless innings in his final tuneup start ahead of his first postseason, helping the NL East champion Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 5-1 on Saturday.
With shadows stretching across the field after the 4:07 p.m. first pitch, Strasburg (14-11) spotted his fastball at 97 mph and mixed in breaking balls that confounded a Marlins lineup missing the injured Giancarlo Stanton. Strasburg finished with seven strikeouts — giving him 242, three more than Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers — and one walk.
It continued a vibrant finish to the regular season: In his last six starts, Strasburg went 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA, 40 strikeouts and three walks.
Next up will be the playoff debut for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. Two years ago, when they also had the NL's best record, the Nationals shut down Strasburg in September to limit his innings as he came back from reconstructive elbow surgery.
On Saturday, Strasburg gave up a double to Jeff Mathis in the third on a ball that went over left fielder Bryce Harper's head, and a single to Casey McGehee in the fourth on a liner that went off right fielder Jayson Werth's glove. That one originally was ruled an error but later changed to a hit.
That was all Miami got off Strasburg, who was lifted for a pinch hitter after 83 pitches.
He also was credited with an RBI in the second, when Harper charged home from third and slid headfirst ahead of the tag after Strasburg bunted off Nathan Eovaldi (6-14).
The game was played a day after the Nationals, who are now 95-66, assured themselves of home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs — and a week after the Marlins were officially eliminated from wild-card contention.
Still, Miami manager Mike Redmond put importance in finishing second in the NL East; his club entered tied with the Braves and Mets.
Washington manager Matt Williams was more concerned with getting everyone through the weekend in full health and with timing intact. The latter is why he started regulars, trotting out what might be the lineup for Game 1 of their NL division series Friday.
But Williams removed some players, starting in the sixth, when Ryan Zimmerman went in to play first base for Adam LaRoche. Zimmerman recently returned after missing 55 games because of an injured right hamstring, and he hasn't been playing regularly. He made a fielding error, failing to glove a possible double-play grounder in the ninth, and singled, making him 5 for 15 since coming off the DL.
"We have to be mindful of his health, first and foremost," Williams said. "So if he says, 'I'm a little bit sore,' we're not going to push him."
What Williams hasn't stated yet is what role Zimmerman will have in the postseason. The way he's been used — usually in left field or as a pinch hitter; never at his original position, third base; never starting consecutive games — appears to indicate the 2009 NL All-Star could be destined for reserve duty.
Asked whether Zimmerman would be on the team's division series roster — a question that speaks volumes about where things stand at the moment for a guy with a $100 million contract — Williams responded: "Unless something happens, yeah. His timing is good at the plate. He's capable of playing wherever we would ask him to play."
Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (13-5, 2.78 ERA) will start Sunday, his first outing since taking a line drive off the side of his pitching shoulder last weekend. "There are no issues. The swelling's gone out of there. Certainly the black and blue is getting out of there," Williams said. Zimmermann faces RHP Henderson Alvarez (12-6, 2.70).
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