The Washington Nationals look to complete their most successful series against the Atlanta Braves in more than three years when the NL East rivals conclude their four-game set at RFK Stadium on Thursday.
After losing the series opener 10-4 on Monday, the Nationals (53-67) have outscored the Braves 14-6 to win the last two games.
Washington won 9-6 on Wednesday as eight of its starting nine reached base against Atlanta (55-64) ace John Smoltz. The Nationals batted around in a four-run second inning.
Ryan Zimmerman hit his 16th homer of the season and drove in three runs to raise his rookie-leading RBI total to 78.
“There was a lot of things going on—pretty much anything you can expect in a game,” said Zimmerman of his busy game. “I made an error. I made a diving play. I had a bat hit me. Struck out swinging at a ball. Home run. Sliding into first base.”
Zimmerman is 12-for-39 (.308) with nine RBIs in 10 games against Atlanta this season, while Alfonso Soriano has a hit in all 11 meetings with the Braves, batting .388 (19-for-49) with six homers and 14 RBIs.
The Nationals lead the season series with Atlanta 6-5, and have not won three straight games in a single series with Atlanta since a three-game sweep March 31-April 3, 2003.
Jason Bergmann (0-0, 7.62 ERA) looks to lead Washington to its third straight win Thursday as he makes his second start of the season.
Bergmann made his first start on Saturday, allowing three runs and four hits in five innings of a 6-4 loss to the New York Mets.
The 24-year-old right-hander’s only other career start came against the Braves last Sept. 11, as he allowed two runs, three walks and one hit in just two innings and did not receive a decision in a 9-7 loss.
Bergmann is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA in five appearances against Atlanta in his two-year major league career.
The Braves have lost 12 of their last 19 games. Center fielder Andruw Jones was out of the starting lineup for the second game in a row because of left knee tendinitis.
Edgar Renteria went 0-for-5 on Wednesday, and is hitless in 22 at-bats over his last six games to drop his season batting average from .313 to .297.
Oscar Villarreal (8-1, 4.48) makes his first start of the season on Thursday as the Braves shake up their rotation.
Villarreal has appeared in 47 games out of the bullpen, and hasn’t made a start since April 8, 2003 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks—a span of 156 games.
“We didn’t have this in mind at all,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He can go five and then we’ll see what happens.
The 24-year-old left-hander started the season 7-0 out of the bullpen, the best start for an Atlanta pitcher since reliever Mike Remlinger opened 7-0 in 2000.
Villarreal has pitched two innings or longer in 10 of his last 15 appearances. His longest outing of the season came on June 23, when he pitched 4 1-3 scoreless innings of relief against Tampa Bay.
Villarreal has yet to record a decision in seven career games against Washington, allowing four hits and one run in 6 2-3 innings.