Strasburg faces high-profile foe at 7pm on MASN HD

Stephen Strasburg’s seventh, and final, start of the first half comes tonight when the Nationals play host to the Giants tonight. And aside from his matchup with Tim Hudson in Atlanta last week, tonight will bring the best pitching counterpart Strasburg has faced.

The Giants’ Matt Cain, a 25-year-old right-hander who has gradually distanced himself from Tim Lincecum’s shadow, has been as tough as, if not tougher than, the two-time Cy Young winner has been on the Nationals.

Cain, a 6-foot-3 right-hander with a power fastball, isn’t unlike the Padres’ Mat Latos, who shut the Nationals down on Thursday. He’s got two breaking balls - though neither is as good as Latos’ slider - and an impressive changeup that’s made him almost as tough on lefties (.235 career average) as righties (.226).

And the Nationals have never been particularly good against him; he’s 4-0 in his last five starts against them, and still went seven innings in the one he didn’t win. Of the five Nationals with more than 10 plate appearances against Cain, only Ryan Zimmerman (.937) and Cristian Guzman (.824) have an OPS greater than .800 against Cain.

What does all this mean for Strasburg? Once again, he’ll probably be locked in a pitcher’s duel with little room for error. The Giants’ meager lineup shouldn’t give Strasburg much trouble, but San Francisco does tend to be an aggressive fastball-hitting team, so Strasburg will need to spot his four-seamer well and use his off-speed stuff effectively.

The first of three between the two teams is at 7:05 p.m. on MASN.