Chicago (37-57) at Washington (40-56)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Washington, DC, US
Temp: 67° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Fri Jul 21, 2006
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Mark Prior is hoping he bounces back from his second stint on the disabled list this season better than he did his first.

The Cubs starter returns to the mound when Chicago opens a three-game series with the Washington Nationals Friday at RFK Stadium.

Prior (0-4, 7.71 ERA) started the season on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his right shoulder and did not make his first start until June 18. He then lost each of his four outings before straining his left oblique on July 8 in batting practice and returning to the DL for the seventh time since making his major league debut in 2002.

“I wish it didn’t come to that but that wasn’t my decision,” he said.

Prior allowed 20 runs in 21.7 innings in his four outings, while striking out 22 batters. His most recent start was a 7-2 loss at Houston on July 4 in which he gave up four runs in six innings, his longest outing of the season.

Prior has lost five straight starts and six straight decisions, both career highs, and his seven-start winless stretch is also the longest of his career.

He is 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA in four career starts against the Nationals franchise, and has lost his last three starts against them since a complete-game, 3-0 win over the Montreal Expos on April 9, 2003. He has never pitched at RFK.

The Cubs (37-57) took two of three games from the Houston Astros this week at Wrigley Field, including Thursday’s 4-1 victory. Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez hit back-to-back homers in the third inning, and starter Carlos Zambrano pitched eight strong innings for the Cubs, who held Houston to six total runs in the series.

Barrett went 2-for-3 with a run and was 10-for-20 in the Cubs’ six-game homestand.

“We’ve been playing pretty good baseball of late, and we want to stay focused and keep that going,” Barrett said.

First baseman Derrek Lee, who missed 59 games earlier in the season with a broken right wrist, sat out Thursday with soreness in the wrist, but expects to return Friday.

The Nationals (40-56) have dropped seven of nine after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Florida Marlins. Washington managed just two hits and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranding three at third base.

“Opportunities—we can’t take advantage of them,” manager Frank Robinson said. “How many times have we said that? We’re a major league ballclub, and we can’t get people in from third?”

Second baseman Jose Vidro missed his second straight game with an injured left hamstring and is day to day. The Nationals also placed right fielder Jose Guillen on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right elbow.

Washington starting pitchers are winless over the last 12 games. Livan Hernandez (6-8, 5.87) will look to put an end to that streak.

He allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings of the Nationals’ 11-inning, 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. The start was pushed back two days because of a sore right knee, but Hernandez recovered nicely after giving up seven runs in 1 2-3 innings in his previous start on July 6, an 11-inning, 8-7 Washington win over Florida.

Hernandez is 9-6 with a 3.99 ERA in 18 career starts against the Cubs. The right-hander gave up four runs—two earned—in seven innings of a 4-0 loss at Wrigley Field on May 16.

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Starting Pitchers

M. Prior CIN vs. P. Astacio WAS
1-6 Record 5-5
7.21 ERA 5.98
38 K 42
28 BB 31
1.69 WHIP 1.55