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Nationals-Mets Preview

AP - Sports

The Washington Nationals are about to embark on a seven-game road trip with a small cushion atop the NL East.

Meanwhile, the New York Mets are in danger of falling completely out of the race.

Washington's Jordan Zimmermann will try to keep both trends going.

Zimmermann looks to help the Nationals continue their season-long success against the Mets, who will try to avoid a 10th loss in 11 games Monday night in the opener of a three-game series.

After blowing a nine-run lead in an extra-inning loss Friday in the opener of a four-game set against Atlanta, Washington (55-39) was shut out in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday. The Nationals, though, rebounded to win the next two contests and begin this trip 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Braves.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice and was one of four players to record three hits in Sunday's 9-2 victory. Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina added two RBIs apiece.

"We didn't want (the Braves) coming into our house and leave with them feeling that good," manager Davey Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "I gave them one Friday, and then they nipped us on Saturday morning, but I wasn't worried about the club. There's no letdown in this ball club."

Johnson was probably also feeling better after Bryce Harper returned to the starting lineup Sunday and went 1 for 5 with a run. He fouled a bunt off his ankle in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader and did not start the nightcap, entering as a pinch hitter.

The Nationals will look to put some additional distance between themselves and the third-place Mets beginning Monday. Washington won two of three meetings last week to improve to 6-3 in the season series.

Zimmermann (7-6, 2.35 ERA) tossed six scoreless innings in a 4-3 victory Wednesday in the middle game of that series. He also gave up two solo homers among five hits allowed in six innings of a 7-6 win in 12 innings against New York on June 5.

The right-hander is looking to win his third straight start and fifth consecutive decision. He hasn't allowed a run in his last two outings and is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA over his last nine starts. In the last five, he has a 0.84 ERA.

"I want to finish the season strong, not just the first half," he said. "So far, so good. I want to keep getting strong as the year goes on."

Chris Young (2-4, 4.11) was the losing pitcher last week opposite Zimmermann, giving up two runs and six hits, including a home run to Adam LaRoche, in six innings.

That was the third consecutive loss for Young, who has turned in quality starts in five of his past six outings. The right-hander is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts against the Nationals.

Young's team fell below .500 for the first time this season after losing 8-3 in 12 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. New York (47-48) has dropped nine of 10 to fall a season-high 8 1/2 games behind Washington.

"I don't think we're playing as poorly as the record indicates,'' said third baseman David Wright, who went 3 for 6, "but this is when we need to get things turned around and moving in the direction we need it to."

New York's bullpen was very busy over the weekend, pitching 17 innings in three games. The relievers are 0-3 with a 5.45 ERA in the last 10 appearances while the starters have a 7.09 ERA.

Looking for a spark, top prospect Matt Harvey is scheduled to start against Arizona on Thursday.

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