Strasburg so-so, Tracy hurt as Nats best Braves

Stephen Strasburg wasn’t at his best and pinch-hitting ace Chad Tracy hurt himself on the same play he drove in the eventual winning run.

But that might’ve been the extent of the negative for the Nationals in Saturday’s series-clinching 8-4 win over the Braves in Atlanta.

Every Nats starter other than Tyler Moore had at least a hit with Danny Espinosa’s three-run homer being the big knock. Adam LaRoche added two RBIs while Bryce Harper hit his third homer and first since May 15.

Strasburg earned the win, improving to 5-1 despite matching a season high with four earned runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. The 23-year-old phenom has scuffled over his three starts since posting a 1.64 ERA through his first seven games of 2012.

After pitching at least six innings in each of his first seven contests, the right-hander has lasted five innings or fewer in each of his last three, allowing nine earned runs (11 overall) in 14 innings for a 5.79 ERA. As a result, his season ERA has risen a full run in the last 22 days - to 2.64.

Of course, that’s nothing to scoff at. He’s having a spectacular start and giving his team a chance to win even when not dominating, taking victories from each of his last two games.

But with Strasburg leaving his previous outing with right arm soreness and having difficulty with his command in Atlanta Saturday, it’s beginning to seem like a trend, perhaps even a mini-slump.

The Nats jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in Strasburg’s latest, as LaRoche hit a sacrifice fly in the first and Espinosa mashed his fifth homer of the year in the second.

Atlanta answered, scoring twice in the second and twice in the fifth to draw even at 4-4.

But the Nationals locked up their second straight win and fifth in six games by plating the game’s final four runs.

Washington reclaimed the lead in the sixth when Tracy hit a pinch-hit RBI double to left, bringing Ian Desmond home for a 5-4 advantage. However, Tracy came up lame on the play and had to leave the contest for a pinch runner. The 32-year-old has been invaluable, going 6-for-18 with nine RBIs in pinch-hit situations so far this year.

Rick Ankiel extended the lead to two with a RBI triple later in the sixth. The Nats scored two more in the seventh on Harper’s solo homer and a LaRoche RBI double.

That upped the Nats’ record to 28-18, moving 10 games over .500 for the second time this year and first time since they were 14-4.

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