‘Dream’ set­ting for Stras­burg

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Howard Fen­drich

WASH­ING­TON — Stephen Stras­burg’s 2012 shut­down is a dis­tant mem­ory by now.

This sort of set­ting and stakes — Game 5 against the Dodgers, with the out­come of the NL Divi­sion Series on the line — is ex­actly why the Na­tion­als pro­tected the pitcher they drafted No. 1 over­all all those years ago.

Stras­burg will get the ball for the vis­it­ing wild-card Na­tion­als, and Walker Buehler will be on the mound for league-best the NL West cham­pion Dodgers on Wednesday night.

“Bet­ter to be at home than on the road in Game 5,” Dodgers first base­man Cody Bellinger said.

The Dodgers are try­ing to reach the NL Cham­pi­onship Series for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year, while the Na­tion­als have never won a playoff series since the fran­chise moved to Wash­ing­ton in 2005.

“We’ve got their big horse against one of our horses,” Na­tion­als catcher Kurt Suzuki said.

Each starter al­ready had a fan­tas­tic out­ing to earn a win in the series: Buehler gave up just one hit while toss­ing six score­less in­nings in Game 1; Stras­burg struck out 10 and al­lowed one run in six in­nings in Game 2.

That low­ered Stras­burg’s post­sea­son ERA to 0.64, the low­est for any­one with at least four ca­reer starts.

“It’s some­thing that you train for, you dream about as a kid,” he said, “and you want to have those op­por­tu­ni­ties to just see how your stuff stacks up.”

It’s the sort of pro­duc­tion the Na­tion­als were en­vi­sion­ing when GM Mike Rizzo held the righty out of the play­offs seven sea­sons ago, a year after Stras­burg had Tommy John surgery. Buehler will be mak­ing his sixth post­sea­son start; he’s 1-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Last year, he ap­peared in one game in the NLDS, two in the NLCS and one in the World Series, where the Dodgers lost to the Red Sox.

“Some­thing I’m fa­mil­iar with,” he said of the pres­sure of the play­offs, “and get­ting to do it at home cer­tainly helps.”

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