THE RESULT:  The Washington Nationals found a team they can beat more often than not.  Behind Stephen Strasburg's good -- but not great -- five innings, and four solid scoreless from the pen, the Nats put away the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3, taking this series three games to two, and the season series over their N.L. West foes.

The season series win over Arizona is the first over an N.L. opponent this season.

The Nats got offensive support in the form of the long ball once again, as Josh Willingham hit a big two-run homer to tie things up in the fourth, and Ryan Zimmerman tacked on an insurance tater in the eighth, his 24th of the season.

Strasburg (ND, 5-3, 2.97) struck out seven and walked none, allowing five hits and three runs, only one of which was earned.  But he needed 85 pitches to get through five innings, and on several occasions got ahead of hitters only to let them work themselves back into good hitter's counts.

One such progression typified his afternoon. 

In the fifth inning, Strasburg got ahead of All-Star center fielder Chris Young 0-2 then played around with him, throwing a curveball way outside, a fastball that made Young jack-knife to get out of the way of, and a slurve in the dirt he wanted him to chase.  When the count got back to 3-2, the rookie had to come back to the hitter, and Young pounded a fastball to center for a single.

It cost Strasburg several pitches, and the scenario was not unique for the 22-year old phenom.

Strasburg had no trouble with his control today (85 pitches, 57 stirkes), so whether the sequence was command or strategy, it's something that needs work right now.

Strasburg's big trouble came in the second when he gave up a home run to Adam LaRoche and allowed two unearned runs off a bad throw on a swinging bunt that Strasburg air-mailed down the right field line.

"You know, it's the big leagues and they're going to get you now and then," Riggleman said.  "He got behind on LaRoche and LaRoche centered up the ball real good on him.

Zimmerman and Willingham took care of the offense for the Nats.  Each had two hits and two runs to go along with their home runs, and Ian Desmond and Ivan Rodriguez contributed RBI singles.

After Strasburg departed, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen shut down Arizona, allowing just two hits and no walks over four innings with five strikeouts.

THE GOOD:  Josh Willingham.  Struggling with a balky knee, he hit his first home run in over a month, ending a 33-game drought.  Tyler Clippard struck out three in two innings to pick up the win, his team-leading ninth of the season.

THE BAD:  Michael Morse.  He went 0-for-4, and is now 5-for-44 in August with 11 strikeouts.

THE UGLY:  Four protesters made their way onto the field after Strasburg batted in the fifth inning.  The first two acted as decoys, while the second two attepted to unfurl a banner protesting the Arizona immigration law.  (See slideshow of unedited photos below). Riggleman cited the incident as instrumental in lifting Strasburg after allowing the pitcher to hit in the fifth.

"Once that stuff happened on the field, I just was undecided whether I wanted him to go back out there and once we sat in there a little bit longer with that stuff going on I just decided that I wasn't going to send him back out there."

THE STATS:  2 Ks, 1 BB, 2-for-7 RISP, 5 LOB

NEXT GAME:  Nats are off Monday as they travel to Atlanta for a three-game series starting Tuesday.  Scott Olsen (3-4, 5.11) is scheduled against Mike Minor (0-0, 4.50) for the Braves at 7:10 pm from Turner Field.

NATS NOTES:  Today's attendance, 21,695, was the lowest ever for a Strasburg start.  The gloomy weather certainly didn't help things out, as a light rain fell all morning at Nats Park and the tarp was not removed until right before game time.

Several conflicting rumors circulated during the game about the status of Nats 2010 draft picks Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray, with all three at one point determined signed by various sources, only to be refuted by others.  With Monday at midnight the draftee signing deadline and tomorrow's off-day, much will be said about the status of those three players, along with No. 1 overall Bryce Harper, who remains unsigned as of this post.

RHP Jordan Zimmermann, making his third start for Triple-A Syracuse as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery, went five innings and allowed one run on five hits and one walk, striking out three.  He threw 73 pitches, 43 for strikes.  In his three starts, Zimmermann has given up just one earned run in 12 innings.

Before today's game, Riggleman said Zimmermann could be back before the Sept. 1 call-ups, but regardless he should pitch for the Nationals this season.


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