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AP - Sports

It may have taken the Washington Nationals a while to win the first two games of their weekend series with the Cincinnati Reds, but it's been much longer since they've opened a season in such strong fashion.

The Nationals seek their best start in 31 years Saturday when they play the third of four home games against Cincinnati.

Washington is 6-2 for the first time since 2001, when the franchise was still the Montreal Expos. The Nationals have won four straight, the last two coming in dramatic fashion over the Reds (3-5) in extra innings.

After Ryan Zimmerman scored on an Alfredo Simon wild pitch to give Washington a 3-2, 10-inning win Thursday, the Nationals prevailed 2-1 in 13 innings Friday night when Jayson Werth singled home Danny Espinosa for the deciding run.

It was the first game-ending hit since joining the Nationals for Werth, who struggled with a .232 average and 58 RBIs in his first year with the team last season but is hitting .303 with four RBIs early in 2012.

"I like his frame of his mind," manager Davey Johnson said. "If he has the right frame of mind, he's going to have a great year."

Another victory Saturday would give the Washington franchise its first 7-2 start since 1981, when the Expos went on to make the only postseason appearance in the team's 43-year history.

The pitching staff has been the backbone of the current four-game winning streak, during which the Nationals have allowed five total runs in 41 innings. The starting rotation has been particularly stellar, posting a 0.36 ERA in that stretch by limiting the opposition to one run over 25 innings. Washington starters have struck out 25 in that span while allowing only nine hits for a .106 opponent batting average.

On Saturday, the Nationals will give the ball to the starter who took the mound the last time they lost a game. Edwin Jackson, who signed an $11 million, one-year contract after winning the World Series with St. Louis last fall, squandered an early three-run lead in his Washington debut. The right-hander allowed three runs over five innings and did not factor in the decision of Monday's 4-3 road defeat to the New York Mets.

Jackson faced the Reds for the first time last Sept. 4, giving up two runs while scattering eight hits over seven innings and not getting a decision for the Cardinals.

He'll be opposed Saturday by Homer Bailey, who appeared bound for an early shower in his season debut after allowing four runs on three homers with two outs in the first inning Monday against St. Louis. The right-hander settled down after that, yielding no more runs and staying in the game for 5 2-3 innings, but got charged with a 7-1 loss.

Bailey didn't stay in the game long enough to settle down the only previous time he faced the Nationals, surrendering five runs and seven hits in two innings of Cincinnati's 5-2 defeat at Washington on Aug. 1, 2008.

The Reds went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position Friday, and are batting .125 on the season in such situations.

The top two batters in Friday's Cincinnati lineup - Drew Stubbs and Wilson Valdez - were a combined 0 for 12 with four strikeouts. The 4-5 hitters, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce, went 0 for 10 with a walk.

"The guys don't like it," manager Dusty Baker said.

"You either tuck your head and cry about what's happening or get tougher," he added. "Those are the choices you have."

Washington is expected to activate Rick Ankiel off the disabled list to make his season debut Saturday. Johnson plans to use Ankiel, who was hampered by a left quadriceps injury in spring training, as his everyday center fielder.

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