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AP - Sports

The Washington Nationals continue to struggle at the plate in key situations, while Jordan Zimmermann hardly resembles the pitcher who was among baseball's best for much of the first half.

Perhaps facing the team his last win came against can help Zimmermann end his slide.

Zimmermann takes the mound in Friday night's series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

Zimmermann (12-6, 3.19 ERA) joined Detroit's Max Scherzer as baseball's only 12-game winners when he gave up four runs and nine hits over six innings in a 10-5 victory over Milwaukee on July 1. He has since gone 0-3 with a 7.52 ERA in four starts.

The right-hander surrendered five runs and six hits - including two homers to Daniel Murphy - in an 11-0 loss to the New York Mets on Friday, though eight strikeouts were his most in six starts. He threw a career-high 118 pitches in only 6 2-3 innings, and is averaging 17.5 pitches per inning over his last four outings after averaging 13.6 in his previous 17 starts.

"I felt like, you know, I pitched a lot better than what the stat line says," said Zimmermann, who owns a 2.89 ERA while winning all three career starts versus Milwaukee (46-62).

Washington (52-56) has lost 14 of 20, plummeting well behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East. The Nationals have been subpar all season with runners in scoring position, hitting .241, but have been even worse lately.

Since their skid began July 8, the Nationals are 23 for 133 (.180) with runners in scoring position - the lowest in baseball. That average would be even worse had they not gone 9 for 12 in Sunday's 14-1 win over the Mets.

Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche - second and third on the team with 53 and 46 RBIs, respectively - are hitting .200 and .143 in those situations over that span.

LaRoche and Desmond were 0 for 7 overall with four strikeouts in an 11-1 loss at Detroit on Wednesday, the 12th time the club has been held to two runs or fewer in its last 14 defeats.

"Everybody's got to want it, starting with the manager on down - everybody," said Bryce Harper, who was 1 for 15 with six strikeouts when Washington split four games against Milwaukee from July 1-4. "Everybody wants to win this and keep going. We need to get going and play better, hit better, have better ABs in certain situations and pitch better also. It's just something we need to do."

Harper is batting .333 in 12 games since the break but is 5 for 42 (.119) in 12 career contests against the Brewers.

Scheduled Milwaukee starter Tom Gorzelanny (2-4, 2.83) is coming off his first win in 15 starts dating to May 7, 2011. The left-hander threw 5 1-3 innings while allowing six hits and four runs - all in the sixth - in a 7-5 victory at Colorado on Saturday.

"That inning I could have done a little bit better," said Gorzelanny, 2-1 in three starts against Washington with a 3.15 ERA. "All that matter is we got the win."

Rickie Weeks is batting .119 over his last 16 games but is 3 for 7 lifetime off Zimmermann.

Norichika Aoki was 8 for 20 in the teams' first series while Juan Francisco went 5 for 10.

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