Stephen Strasburg has dealt with lofty expectations since joining the Washington Nationals in 2010, and he's lived up to them for the most part.
His inconsistencies have led to a disappointing start to the season, though, and he'll look to put together back-to-back solid outings for the first time when he takes the mound against the visiting San Diego Padres on Friday night.
Strasburg battled through major arm surgery and went 29-19 with a 2.96 ERA through last season. He's been up and down to start this year, going 1-2 with a 5.33 ERA through five starts.
The right-hander allowed six runs for the second time this season in an 11-2 loss to Miami on April 15, but he bounced back by giving up two runs and striking out nine in six innings before Washington (12-11) rallied for a 3-2 win over St. Louis on Sunday.
Strasburg has yet to put together consecutive solid starts, and that's also been the case against the Padres (11-12). Strasburg lasted four innings in a 6-1 loss the first time he faced them May 15, 2012, then gave up one earned run and three hits in eight innings of a 6-2 victory May 16 the following year.
He beat San Diego 11-7 on July 7 but allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. Chase Headley is 4 for 8 with two doubles off Strasburg, while Alexi Amarista is 3 for 5 with a homer.
Headley entered Thursday's series opener hitting .188 with more strikeouts (20) than hits (13), and he flew out before leaving in the second inning of the Padres' 4-3, 12-inning victory because of a strained right calf.
Amarista went 0 for 4 in place of Headley, whose status for this game is uncertain. Outfielder Seth Smith also left in the 11th with a strained right groin.
''This was an interesting one, for sure,'' manager Bud Black said. ''This was one where you really had to be creative as it went along.''
Xavier Nady had the go-ahead RBI single in the 12th to help overcome a season high-tying 16 hits from the Nationals, who went 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position.
Washington has scored three runs or fewer in seven of its last eight.
"If we give ourselves that many opportunities, we're going to score runs," manager Matt Williams said. "It's part of the game. We'll take our chances with that many guys out there every night."
The Nationals are 3-5 on their 11-game homestand, and they'll look to bounce back as Robbie Erlin (1-2, 4.15) takes the mound for San Diego.
Erlin has struggled at times in each of his last two starts, giving up three runs and six hits in 4 2-3 innings of a 3-2 loss to Colorado on April 15 before allowing four runs and walking three in six innings of a 4-3 defeat to San Francisco on Sunday.
The left-hander allowed two runs in the first and second innings, but he retired the final 14 batters he faced.
"I'm happy with that, but again, those adjustments should be made earlier on to stop those two runs from scoring," Erlin said. "It's something to improve upon going forward and something to work on."
The 23-year-old opposed Strasburg in his only start against the Nationals in July, getting roughed up for nine runs and six hits - including a grand slam by Ryan Zimmerman and a two-run shot by Anthony Rendon - while walking four over four innings.