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Nationals-Marlins Preview

AP - Sports

One of the longest road trips of the season hasn't proven much of an obstacle so far for the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

The Nationals will try to complete their three-city journey to the homes of division rivals in positive fashion when they pay their first visit to the Miami Marlins' new park for three games starting Monday afternoon.

After beginning its nine-game trek by taking two of three in Philadelphia, Washington (29-18) completed a three-game sweep of Atlanta with a 7-2 victory Sunday night. Jesus Flores went 3 for 4 with two RBIs in the series finale against the Braves, while Bryce Harper hit his second homer in as many games.

"The big thing in division play is that you try to win series," second baseman Danny Espinosa told the Nationals' official website. "You are not always going to sweep, especially in this division. It's a tough division. You always want to go out there and win series, especially on the road."

Washington will try to win its first game at Marlins Park with help from Jordan Zimmermann (3-4, 2.47 ERA), who is 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA - best among major league qualifiers - in four road starts this season. He gave up one run over six innings to defeat the Phillies on Tuesday.

Zimmermann is 0-2 with a 4.55 ERA in five career starts against the Marlins, but has no decisions and a 2.00 ERA in three outings in Miami. He'll be opposed by Carlos Zambrano (2-3, 2.85), who endured his worst outing of the season Wednesday at Marlins Park.

The right-hander was tagged for seven runs in five innings - a major step back after he'd gone 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his first four May starts.

Zambrano limited the Nationals to one run on a solo homer by Rick Ankiel and two total hits over seven innings April 20 in the nation's capital, but got outpitched by Ross Detwiler and charged with the Marlins' 2-0 defeat.

The Nationals earned a 3-2 victory the following day to complete a two-game sweep and improve to 5-1 in their last six games against Miami (26-22). They won two of three last Sept. 26-28 in the final series at Sun Life Stadium.

While Washington is surging, the Marlins have been playing well all month with an 18-8 record in May.

"They're playing with confidence, and so are we,'' Miami manager Ozzie Guillen said.

Guillen's club is coming off a four-game split at home against San Francisco, concluding with a 3-2 loss Sunday. The Marlins had their opportunities, but went 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position after hitting .356 in RBI situations over the first six contests of their season-high 10-game homestand.

Miami is still hoping Heath Bell can establish some consistency. The struggling closer was pulled in the ninth inning of Friday and Saturday's wins, has blown four of 11 save chances and sports an 8.47 ERA, but Guillen is maintaining his support.

"It's going to be very hard for us to win if Heath Bell is not our closer," Guillen said. "It's easier for everyone if this kid comes out and does what he has been doing in the past. We have to get him back on track, and we have to give him the confidence."

Bell has converted five consecutive save chances against Washington but gave up two runs in the ninth inning of a 2-0 defeat for San Diego on June 12, the last time he faced the Nationals.

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