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MIA@WSH: Strasburg fans 12 in outstanding start

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-eight pitchers were taken in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, beginning with highly touted starter Stephen Strasburg. Eighteen picks after Washington chose Strasburg, the Cardinals plucked a high schooler from Texas by the name of Shelby Miller.

Those two power right-handers will face each other for the first time in their careers on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:35 p.m. ET at Nationals Park.

"I just think every day it seems like we're matching up with some tough competition," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Stephen has had a great start to his career -- and Shelby has done the same and has a bright future. You can see why there's excitement within the game [about the matchup]. Hopefully, we'll deliver on our end."

The marquee matchup comes in the final game of a four-game series that has thus far been swayed by defensive miscues. The Nationals committed three errors in the first game and the Cardinals three in the second. Three unearned runs helped St. Louis to a win on Saturday.

Miller avoided an 0-3 start by beating Milwaukee on Tuesday. He allowed one run over six innings. The one standout issue for him this year has been home runs. He's surrendered five over his first 17 1/3 innings.

"Obviously, I'm frustrated with that," Miller said. "If I could go back in time, I would do anything to take away the big home runs. I've struggled with that. But, at the same time, all of them have been [to] great hitters. Hopefully, we get the ball on the ground a little bit more next time."

Strasburg gave up six runs for the second time in three starts on Tuesday in Miami, as the Marlins touched him up for eight hits and three walks over four innings. His ERA sits at 6.00 -- including 11.25 in the first two innings of games.

Despite those struggles, manager Matt Williams didn't pick out anything particular Strasburg needs to fix.

"No, he's going to get the ball every five days and go get them. There's no adjustments to be made," Williams said. "It's the same with every pitcher. [On Friday] night both Michael Wacha and Gio [Gonzalez] threw the ball where they wanted to throw it -- and if pitchers do that, it's tough for the opposing club. Every time.

"If they put the ball where they want to and they're able to change speeds and throw it for a strike when they want to, and throw it for a ball when they want to, it's hard to hit. You don't want to get too far beyond that because, ultimately, execution is the key."

Cardinals: Starts piling up for Jay
• Jon Jay opened the season as the backup to center fielder Peter Bourjos, but has started four of the Cardinals' first six games on this road trip -- including Saturday's win. He's earned those starts by swinging a hot bat and has hit safely in five straight games.

"He's got a very nice approach, short," Matheny noted. "He worked the whole winter on trying to eliminate some extra movement. We've talked a lot about that for a couple of years, and I think he got to the point where he felt it more so than just knew it. And it took a little while for timing to kick in. His timing looks right. It's a good opportunity for him to go out and keep going and see how long he can keep that good feel."

It's ironic that Jay's swing is falling into place here, as it was during the team's April series in Washington last year that Jay was unplugged as the starting center fielder for two consecutive games to try and right his swing. Through 18 games last season, he was batting .197 with 17 strikeouts.

He started this season 3-for-16 (.188), but is 7-for-17 (.412) since. He had two hits on Saturday.

Nationals: Span returns to center field
• Denard Span was activated from the 7-day concussion disabled list on Saturday and immediately inserted back into the Nationals' starting lineup. His return to center field moved Nate McLouth back to the bench and cost Steven Souza Jr. his roster spot, as the Nationals optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse.

"It feels good," Span said about being back in Washington after his two-game rehab assignment with Class A Hagerstown. "A couple days in Hagerstown definitely got my appreciation for being here up a few notches, and I'm ready to go."

Span reached on an infield single in his first at-bat on Saturday. He finished with two hits in five at-bats.

McLouth went 0-for-13 while subbing in for Span and is 2-for-27 (.074) overall this season.

Worth noting
• Yadier Molina will return to the Cardinals' starting lineup on Sunday, after being given the day off on Saturday. Molina started 16 of the team's first 18 games.

• The Cardinals have not yet announced who will start in place of Joe Kelly in Monday's game against the Mets. That announcement is likely to come on Sunday, before the club takes the train to New York City.

• The final game of this four-game series falls on Easter Sunday. It's fitting for Holy Week, too, as the Nationals are hosting the Cardinals, Angels and Padres during this 11-game homestand.

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