Braves-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals swept a struggling Atlanta Braves team last week before failing to win a game during their most recent series.

The Nationals could have a hard time regrouping Saturday against a Braves club that appears to be back on track - even with Stephen Strasburg on the hill.

Strasburg looks to end his struggles against Atlanta as these NL East rivals open a rain-shortened two-game set in the nation's capital.

Washington will also see the season debut of Michael Morse, who led the team with 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 2011 but has been sidelined with a strained lat suffered during spring training.

"When it first happened, I thought no big deal. One or two days, a spring training kind of thing," Morse said before Friday night's matchup was rained out. "But to take a couple months out of the season, it hurt. It was a shock at first. I just dug down, said I've done this before, and it's not something I can't come back from."

Washington took all three matchups in Atlanta last weekend but followed with three consecutive defeats at Miami, capping a 5-4 trip with Wednesday's 5-3 loss. The Nationals (29-21) scored 22 runs versus the Braves but were limited to seven against the Marlins, going 2 for 19 with runners in scoring position.

Washington hasn't dropped four straight since a season-worst five-game slide April 26-May 1.

The Nationals have limited Atlanta to 11 runs during their five-game winning streak in the series. They haven't taken six in a row from the Braves since a seven-game run spanning the 1988 and '89 seasons as the Montreal Expos.

Atlanta (28-24) saw its longest losing streak in more than two years reach eight Monday before posting back-to-back victories over St. Louis. Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman went deep and drove in a combined seven runs during Wednesday's 10-7 win.

"We went through a stretch," said Freeman, who had missed the previous four games due to vision problems before receiving a new pair of glasses. "Everybody goes through a stretch in the season. Hopefully that was our longest one. ... It's how you minimize those and we bounced back like a winning team does."

The Braves will look to keep things going against Strasburg (5-1, 2.64 ERA), who is 1-2 over three career starts versus Atlanta while compiling a 5.28 ERA - his highest against any opponent he's faced more than once.

The right-hander yielded four runs, six hits and a season-high four walks in five innings but won 8-4 at Turner Field last Saturday.

"Sometimes you can't find the strike zone, and I was struggling with it all day," Strasburg said. "I just have to try to let it go and do better next time."

He's had an especially difficult time with Dan Uggla, who's gone 6 for 8 with two homers in their matchups - the most hits by any player against Strasburg.

Brandon Beachy (5-3, 1.77) will oppose Strasburg after losing his second straight start Sunday night, 7-2 to Washington. The right-hander, who has the best ERA in the majors, allowed three runs - one earned - while walking a season high-tying four over five innings.

"I just took a few steps backward from where I want to be tonight," said Beachy, who also hit a batter. "I didn't control my fastball, and it caused a lot of problems."

He has made three of his four career starts versus the Nationals in Washington, going 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA.

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is expected to make his big league debut Saturday for the Braves. The 22-year-old Simmons had his contract purchased from Double-A Mississippi on Thursday to replace fellow rookie Tyler Pastornicky.

Simmons was batting .292 with three home runs and 21 RBIs at Mississippi.

"He's playing great. He's playing great defense. He's swinging the bat. So he's telling us that he's ready to move up," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.