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AP - Sports

It's difficult to find someone pitching better over the last month than the New York Mets' R.A. Dickey, which is saying something considering one of his teammates just threw the first no-hitter in franchise history and has an 18-inning scoreless streak.

The knuckleballer is working on an impressive run of his own.

Armed with a scoreless streak of 17 1-3 innings, Dickey can become baseball's first nine-game winner Thursday against the Washington Nationals as he tries to stop the visiting Mets' skid at three.

Dickey (8-1, 2.69 ERA) followed up Johan Santana's no-hitter against St. Louis last Friday - the left-hander's second straight complete game - with a gem of his own the next day, striking out nine and tossing a seven-hitter in a 5-0 victory.

"I simply want to take a step to meet the bar that he has already set," Dickey told the Mets' official website. "He has set the tone. I don't like being one-upped anyway, but it's fun to compete with him internally on who can have a better outing."

The right-hander is 5-0 with a major league-best 1.45 ERA in six starts since the beginning of May, and is sporting a 0.39 ERA with 30 strikeouts and one walk in winning his last three.

He has already matched his win total from last season, when he went 8-13 in 32 starts, and is tied for the most victories in baseball with Philadelphia's Cole Hamels and St. Louis' Lance Lynn, who are also both scheduled to start Thursday.

This will be Dickey's first start against the Nationals (32-22) after going 1-3 with a 3.82 ERA in five outings against them last year. He was backed by five total runs of support in the four games he didn't win.

Dickey hasn't allowed a first-inning run all season, a pattern the Mets would especially love to see continue after Wednesday's 5-3 loss. Adam LaRoche put New York (31-26) in an early hole, hitting a three-run homer off Jeremy Hefner in the first to pave the way for the Nationals' eighth victory in nine games over the Mets.

LaRoche finished with two hits and four RBIs after batting .083 with eight strikeouts in his previous six games.

"He's been quiet for a long time," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's going to start getting hot."

While Dickey has been instrumental to New York's success, pitching has keyed Washington's march to the top of the East.

The Nationals lead the majors with a 2.97 ERA, though Chien-Ming Wang (1-1, 6.43) has yet to have anything to do with that success.

After opening the season on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, Wang made his first start Wednesday in Miami and allowed four runs and seven hits in four innings of a 5-3 loss. The right-hander, who was put in the rotation because Ross Detwiler struggled with walks, issued three free passes.

"I thought he was a little rusty,'' Johnson said. "I thought he had good stuff, but a little wildness that cost him. I think he'll be better next time out.''

In two starts against the Mets last season, Wang went 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA.

New York's David Wright is batting .433 with two homers, four RBIs and seven runs scored in his last eight games at Nationals Park.

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