Looking to tie for the major league lead with his 12th victory, Jordan Zimmermann should feel very confident about his chances Monday night.
While trying to extend his dominance at home, the right-hander is facing a slumping offense and an opponent against which he's unbeaten as the Washington Nationals open a four-game series with the sinking Milwaukee Brewers.
This game will also mark the return of Washington star Bryce Harper, who has missed the last 31 games with a knee injury. When he got hurt slamming into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13, the 20-year-old Harper was leading the team in most offensive categories. He's hitting .287 with 12 homers and 23 RBIs.
Harper will bat third and play left field Monday.
"Anytime you can add a guy like that to your lineup, offensively and defensively, you're in good shape," catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
Zimmermann (11-3, 2.28 ERA) has a chance to match Detroit's Max Scherzer for the most wins in the majors following two dominant victories at Nationals Park. Six days after allowing an unearned run in eight innings of a 5-1 win over Colorado, he yielded two runs - both in the first inning - and three hits over seven innings in a 3-2 win over Arizona on Wednesday.
"It means a lot," Zimmermann said after earning his 11th victory, one shy of his career high set last year. "These guys have given me great run support all year. I'm pitching pretty well, too."
Zimmermann has been particularly tough at home, going 8-0 with a 1.09 ERA in nine starts. He's won 13 consecutive decisions at Nationals Park dating back to May 17, 2012. Washington (41-40) has won his last 11 starts there and he hasn't given up more than two runs in any of them.
That doesn't bode well for a Milwaukee team that has totaled 11 runs during a five-game losing streak and is still missing injured star Ryan Braun. Plus, Zimmermann beat the Brewers twice last year in his only two career starts against them, yielding two runs and striking out 13 in 12 2-3 innings.
Milwaukee (32-48) has scored just twice in its last 31 innings and was held to four hits Sunday in a 2-1, 14-inning loss at Pittsburgh.
Norichika Aoki and Logan Schafer are a combined 5 for 36 during the losing streak.
"It's tough right now," Schafer said. "We're not getting a whole lot of breaks. But things will turn. They always do in this game."
That happened Sunday for the Nationals offense, which totaled 12 runs in the previous four games but posted its highest total of the season and had 13 hits in a 13-2 victory over the New York Mets.
Ian Desmond hit his third homer in four games and finished with 28 RBIs in June - a Nationals record for any month.
"It's stride in a right direction," Desmond said. "Obviously I think we're capable of more than this. Not being greedy or anything, but we have a good offense and we feel like we can score runs."
That offense now takes on Yovani Gallardo (6-7, 4.20), who will try to help Milwaukee avoid matching its longest skid of the season. He'll also want to provide some rest for a Brewers bullpen that worked 11 2-3 innings Sunday following a 2-hour, 20-minute rain delay.
Gallardo matched his shortest outing of the season Wednesday, getting pulled after four innings as he gave up five runs - three earned - and eight hits in a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs. He hadn't given up one earned run over his previous three starts.
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 6.85 ERA in his last four starts against Washington.
Adam LaRoche, who homered Sunday, is 8 for 24 against Gallardo, including a home run and a double in five at-bats last season.
Though Harper went 4 for 27 (.148) in last season's series, the Nationals took five of eight meetings with the Brewers.
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