No two starts this season have been more interesting for Stephen Strasburg than his last two.
The right-hander spun his first complete game and shutout against the Phillies on Aug. 16, allowing just four hits and walking one batter in the Nationals' 6-0 win. Then, on Saturday against the Braves, he retired only three hitters before being ejected from the game, which Washington won, 8-7, in 15 innings.
Strasburg plunked Justin Upton in the first inning before throwing two wild pitches behind Andrelton Simmons in the second. He and manager Davey Johnson were each ejected, though neither was suspended by Major League Baseball.
"I can't really explain it," Strasburg said. "I really didn't feel good out there."
Strasburg will make his first start at Wrigley Field since Opening Day 2012, when he limited the Cubs to one run over seven innings but didn't factor in the decision.
Much has changed since then, and the reigning National League East champions now find themselves battling for an outside shot at the second Wild Card spot. Johnson even showed a glimpse of resignation on Wednesday, when he said that he would platoon some players for the rest of this season to get a look at younger talent.
"We're not in the position I'd like to be in, but there is a necessity to look at some guys," Johnson said. "We'll be doing that. I mentioned the other day that Tyler Moore had to get some at-bats, some pretty regular at-bats."
The Cubs have relied on their youth all season, including shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Thursday's starter, 26-year-old Travis Wood. Manager Dale Sveum said that being relied upon as a young player is never easy, especially on a struggling team.
"When you come to the big leagues and right away you get 200 hits, obviously you become a focal point right away," Sveum said. "Like I told Rizzo today, 'Unfortunately or fortunately, it's part of the gig.' One thing you don't want to have happen is not being the focal point, because that means something's fizzled away or something like that."
Wood is 2-7 in his last 14 outings, despite 10 quality starts during that span. Of their 35 combined quality starts this season, Wood and Strasburg only have 13 wins.
Nationals: Espinosa still has a lot to prove
• Danny Espinosa entered this season as the Nationals' starting second baseman, but because of nagging injuries, frequent strikeouts and a low batting average, he was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse after spending some time on the disabled list in June.
Johnson said last month that Espinosa would likely rejoin the Nationals sometime this season, but on Wednesday, the skipper offered a new take. When asked if he would consider recalling Espinosa, who is hitting .202 in 64 Triple-A games, when rosters expand next month, Johnson was hesitant.
"There have been discussions of [calling him up], and right now we're trying to get him back on track," Johnson said. "It's also a reward system when you get called back up. It's a reward on how you did down there. He's not doing the things I know he's capable of doing. But there's still a little time left, and we'll just have to wait and see."
• Roger Bernadina, who was the organization's longest-tenured player before he was released on Monday, signed with the Phillies. He pinch-hit in the seventh inning Wednesday and flew out to right field.
Cubs: Murphy in the midst of a power surge
Utility man Donnie Murphy has smashed his way into the Cubs' starting lineup by hitting seven home runs since Aug. 6. Entering Wednesday's games, the only other player in baseball with more homers in that span was Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (eight).
"Fifty percent of me is [surprised], fifty percent of me isn't," Murphy said. "I know I'm capable of driving some balls out sometimes. But I've been getting some good pitches to hit and just putting good swings on them. I'll take what I can get."
Murphy's success hasn't been limited to home runs, however. During the Cubs' 10-game homestand, which ends Thursday, he has hit .375 (12-for-32) with four doubles. He has also answered Chicago's short-term question at third base, a spot that has been in flux since the departure of Ian Stewart.
"It's huge, putting a guy in the lineup that was really kind of here to be more of a utility player, and then he just played himself into playing every day," Sveum said.
• The Nationals hit two three-run homers in the same game on Wednesday for the first time this season. Jayson Werth's home run came in the third inning and Scott Hairston hit another three-run blast against his former team in the seventh, his first homer as a National.
• With seven strikeouts on Thursday, Wood will have 400 in his career.
• Wednesday marked Johnson's 200th win as manager of the Nationals. He also topped the 200-games won milestone as manager of the Reds (1993-95) and Mets (1984-1990).
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.