Bryce Harper is off to a hot start as he heads to a ballpark he fared poorly in last season against a pitcher he has never faced.
Harper will get his first look at Cincinnati Reds starter Homer Bailey on Friday night at the Great American Ball Park in the opener of a three-game set with a Washington franchise in search of its first 4-0 start in 30 years.
The 20-year-old center fielder went 6 for 12 in a season-opening sweep of Miami to run his regular-season hitting streak to 12 games. He’s 21 for 45 with five homers and 10 RBIs in that span, and said he was OK after taking an elbow to the chin while scoring a run in Thursday’s 6-1 victory.
“Didn’t really hurt too bad,” Harper said. “Just was seeing if it was bleeding at the plate. Feels fine, though.”
Harper went 2 for 14 with four strikeouts last year in his first trip to Cincinnati. The Reds (2-1) were one of four teams he did not have an RBI against in 2012.
Bailey (13-10, 3.68 ERA) will look to fare better at home than he did last season when he went 4-8 with a 5.16 ERA in 17 starts and allowed a NL-high 21 homers.
The right-hander went 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA over his final seven 2012 starts before he allowed one run and one hit over seven innings in a 2-1, 10-inning loss to San Francisco in Game 3 of a Division Series in his last outing.
The Nationals are one of three NL teams Bailey has never beaten. He’s 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts against them.
The last time the Nationals’ franchise started 4-0 was when the 1983 Montreal Expos did so.
Washington’s opening series featured outstanding pitching along with Harper’s prowess at the plate. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez helped the Nationals post back-to-back shutouts to start the season before Jordan Zimmermann yielded one run over six innings Thursday.
Haren’s 2.94 ERA in April is his best in any month. Manager Davey Johnson isn’t concerned about the right-hander’s 6.39 spring ERA.
“I liked how he was throwing the ball at the end of spring,” Johnson told the Nationals’ official website. “I think he liked how he was throwing the ball.”
Haren is 2-2 with a 4.41 ERA in five starts against the Reds, with Joey Votto 0 for 6 against him.
Votto is one of several Reds who turned in a poor first series against the Angels. He went 1 for 10 - but also walked five times - Jay Bruce was 1 for 13 with seven strikeouts and Zack Cozart was 0 for 11.
“It means somebody else picked us up,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Cincinnati won back-to-back 5-4 games after losing its opener in extra innings. Reds pitchers recorded 36 strikeouts in the series.
The Nationals went 5-2 against the Reds last season. Adam LaRoche hitless in 10 at-bats this year, went 11 for 29 with nine RBIs in the season series for Washington while Votto was 9 for 23 with three homers, 11 walks and eight RBIs.