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Preview: Nationals (73-70) at Phillies (56-89)

Game: 2
Venue: Citizens Bank Park
Date: September 15, 2015 7:05 PM EDT

Stephen Strasburg has some work to do if he’s going to avoid his first season with an ERA over four, and Citizens Bank Park has always been a place he’s done some trimming.

He gets that chance Tuesday night when the Washington Nationals try to take the first two of a three-game series against a Philadelphia Phillies club that’s been putting up some offense in recent games.

Strasburg (8-7, 4.30 ERA) ended 2012 with a 3.16 ERA, his highest by a shade over last season’s mark. While he’s going to end 2015 with the worst of his career – it’d take 35 2-3 scoreless innings to change that – he has likely remaining starts against Philadelphia (56-89), Miami, the Phillies again and Atlanta to at least improve it.

He can also get to double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time.

The right-hander gave up three runs and five hits with a season-high 13 strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings of Wednesday’s 5-3 home loss to the New York Mets. His first defeat in four starts matched his longest outing of the year, but he’s given up four homers in his last 11 1-3 innings and five in three starts after surrendering eight in his first 16.

Even so, he’s showing signs of returning to form in six outings since missing most of July and the start of August with an oblique strain, posting 11.57 strikeouts per nine innings and a .193 opponent average after 9.30 and .289 marks in his first 13.

The 27-year-old is 6-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 14 starts against the Phillies, including 1-0 with a 1.55 mark over five in Philadelphia. Ryan Howard is 5 for 25 with 10 strikeouts in their matchups.

The Nationals (73-70) opened the series Monday with an 8-7 win in 11 innings that was their second straight after a five-game losing streak. Jayson Werth homered twice, Bryce Harper connected on his sixth in 10 games and Anthony Rendon also homered for one of his four hits to boost his average to .500 in his last six.

It’s just coming at the wrong time with the Nationals 9 1/2 games out of the NL East lead and the second wild card.

“There’s a sense of too little, too late,” Werth said. “Anything can happen, of course, but it’s been a tough go.”

Washington has won nine of 12 against the Phillies, who have also been scoring. They’ve managed seven runs in three straight games with Howard homering in the last two.

On the mound, the Phillies keep giving David Buchanan chances, but it could take a total 180 in his final outings to gain much consideration for the 2016 rotation. Buchanan (2-8, 9.11) has lost his last three starts behind a 22.00 ERA with nearly a month in the minors sandwiched between the last two.

The right-hander returned in Wednesday’s 8-1 home loss to dreadful Atlanta and gave up four runs and 10 hits with three walks and a hit batter in 3 1-3 innings.

“I’m going to keep grinding. I’m going to keep working to get better,” he told MLB’s official website. “I’m going to keep taking the ball and improving on what I’m doing.”

The 26-year-old is 0-2 with an 8.18 ERA in two career starts against the Nationals, with Ian Desmond (3 for 6 with a home run and double) and Ryan Zimmerman (3 for 6 with three doubles) doing the most damage.

Zimmerman (left oblique), however, has been out of the lineup for six straight games.