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AP - Sports

The Washington Nationals just can't seem to get on track. Not coincidentally, the same can be said for their hitting and pitching.

Jordan Zimmermann will try to give his sinking club a much-needed boost Sunday by tying for the major league lead in wins in the opener of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins.

Washington is struggling to stay in contention with 12 losses in 18 games. A 4-3 defeat in 11 innings Saturday dropped the Nationals two games below .500 for the first time since Sept. 27, 2011.

Washington (29-31) has scored 14 runs in the past seven contests, and it has a 4.34 ERA in the last 18 after posting a 3.29 ERA in the first 42 games.

Injuries have taken their toll with seven players on the disabled list, most notably outfielder Bryce Harper and right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

"It's very frustrating," manager Davey Johnson said. "It's getting my dander up. We're better than this."

Zimmermann (8-3, 2.16 ERA) bounced back from what was easily his worst outing of the season, a 9-6 loss to Baltimore on May 29 in which he allowed seven runs in six innings, by giving up two runs - none earned - in eight innings of a 3-2 win over the New York Mets on Tuesday.

The right-hander almost didn't get enough run support to extend his streak of 17 home starts without a loss. The Nationals, though, scored twice in the ninth for a 3-2 win.

"It's just one of those things, it's hard to explain, I guess," Zimmermann told the team's official website. "I've been pitching pretty good at home and I feel like I've been pitching good on the road, too. ... I don't know, it's kind of crazy just to have that many starts and be doing so well and I've obviously been getting good run support at home and been pitching pretty decent."

Zimmermann, who has a 1.23 ERA in six home outings, will now face a team that's won eight of 11. In his first start against the Twins, he'll oppose Scott Diamond (4-4, 4.66), who is coming off one of his best outings of the season.

The left-hander gave up four hits and a walk over six innings in his first victory in five starts, a 10-0 win over Seattle last Sunday.

Samuel Deduno (2-1, 3.44) will take the ball in the nightcap for Minnesota (27-31). The right-hander has allowed one run over 13 innings in winning back-to-back starts. He pitched six-plus innings in a 3-0 victory over Kansas City on Tuesday.

"I've got a lot more confidence, and everything was working," Deduno said.

Like Diamond, Deduno will make his first start against Washington. The Nationals' Nate Karns will oppose him in his third career start.

Karns (0-1, 6.00), one of the Nationals' top prospects, hasn't gotten past the fifth inning in his first two outings. He gave up four runs over 4 1-3 in losing 6-3 to Atlanta last Sunday.

"I'm leaving pitches over the plate and sometimes I'm putting myself in a fastball count," Karns told the team's website. "These guys don't miss. A little bit of better quality hitters on top of poorly placed pitches. I've just got to stop doing that and I'll have a better chance of getting a 'W' for this team."

Ryan Doumit, who drove in the winning run Saturday, has recorded at least a hit in 10 of his last 11 games, going 15 for 47 (.319) with five home runs, three doubles and 16 RBIs.

''He's been swinging the bat really good and we had some opportunities,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Doumit has batted .400 with 12 RBIs in his last 13 games against Washington. He's never faced Zimmermann or Karns.

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