Atlanta (58-42) at Washington (43-58)

Fair Currently: Washington, DC
Temp: 75° F
  • Game info: 12:35 pm EDT Thu Jul 29, 2010
  • TV: SPSO, MASN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Atlanta Braves have seen their once-comfortable NL East lead shrink over the past week, but Jason Heyward(notes) has done his best to keep his team atop the division.

The rookie outfielder will try to add to his string of strong performances since returning from injury in Thursday’s series finale against the Washington Nationals.

The Braves (58-42) have split their first 12 games following the All-Star break, as their lead over Philadelphia - once as high as seven games - has dwindled to 3 1/2. After dropping Tuesday’s series opener 3-0 to the last-place Nationals (43-58), they avoided a three-game overall skid Wednesday with a 3-1 victory.

Heyward doubled in the win, and sparked Atlanta in the first inning with the club’s first steal of home in 10 years.

“It’s not a play that’s going to happen, and you’re not going to see a lot of it,” Heyward, who is 18 for 41 with 11 runs scored in his last 11 games, told the Braves’ official website. “But when it does happen and you can take advantage of the situation like that, it’s always great.”

If Heyward can continue his strong recent play, it might give Derek Lowe(notes) (10-8, 4.48 ERA) what he needs for a rare win against the Nationals.

The right-handed sinkerballer is 1-5 with a 4.73 ERA in his last eight starts against Washington. He gave up four runs and eight hits over 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 home defeat to the Nationals on June 29.

Lowe is also 1-3 with a 4.66 ERA in his last five starts overall, failing to last through the sixth inning in all but one of those outings. He yielded four runs, five hits and walked five in 5 2-3 innings Friday at Florida, but avoided a loss after the Braves rallied for a brief lead in an eventual 7-6 defeat.

Scott Olsen(notes) (2-2, 3.77) is expected to make his return from the disabled list Thursday for the Nationals, losers of 10 of their last 14. The left-hander been out since May 21 with tightness in his pitching shoulder.

Olsen is 3-5 with a 5.73 ERA in 13 career starts against Atlanta, but is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two matchups versus the Braves in Washington. He allowed two runs and two hits over 7 1-3 innings in a home matchup May 6, but did not get a decision in a 3-2 Nationals win.

Heyward has never faced Olsen, but Chipper Jones(notes) is 13 for 28 against the left-hander and Martin Prado(notes) is 5 for 12. Prado had three hits in Wednesday’s victory to increase his season average to .319.

Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan(notes) is 9 for 16 against Lowe, while second baseman Adam Kennedy(notes) owns a .406 lifetime average in their matchups.

Washington has dropped four of five and eight of 11.

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Starting Pitchers

D. Lowe Tex vs. S. Olsen Tex
16-12 Record 4-8
4.00 ERA 5.56
136 K 53
61 BB 27
1.37 WHIP 1.48

Scoreboard

Thursday, Jul 29