White Sox-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

Many believed the Washington Nationals' star-studded rotation would become all the more formidable with Dan Haren on board.

The former three-time All-Star, though, wasn't sharp in his first start.

Haren looks to bounce back from a forgettable season debut as the Nationals, enjoying their best home start in more than three decades, go for a three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night.

Signed to a one-year deal this offseason after 2 1/2 years with the Angels, Haren (0-1, 13.50 ERA) didn't make a very good first impression in Friday's 15-0 loss at Cincinnati. The veteran right-hander, who gave up a career worst-tying four homers, was tagged for six runs and nine hits over four innings.

"I've had my share of bad games along with good games," he said. "They're tough to deal with, but the sooner you forget about it, the better. It's such a long season. I've probably got 30-plus starts left. This start isn't going to define how the year goes."

Manager Davey Johnson didn't appear too concerned, either.

"It's just one game," Johnson told MLB's official website. "He is a quality pitcher. He knows how to pitch. When you think of spring training, you are getting your arm in shape. He is working on a few things. Just move on."

Haren could get a boost from the Nationals' bats, which have started to heat up. After hitting four homers in Tuesday's 8-7 win, Washington (6-2) went 4 for 10 with runners in scoring position during a 5-2 victory Wednesday.

Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 with his team-leading fourth home run as the Nationals improved to 5-0 at home for the first time since opening a franchise-best 9-0 in 1981, when the club was based in Montreal.

Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa also contributed, going a combined 5 for 8 with three runs scored. Espinosa added his first two RBIs of the season.

"There were a lot of guys that had really good (at-bats) and really came up big for us," said Harper, who has recorded two hits in six of eight games.

Chicago (4-4), which has dropped four of six, is looking to avoid opening 0-3 on the road for the first time since 2003.

The White Sox will try to bounce back behind Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 0.00), who allowed one unearned run and three hits over 5 2-3 innings in Saturday's 4-3 win over Seattle.

"You couldn't tell what he's thinking by what's going on out there," manager Robin Ventura said. "It doesn't matter the situation. He's under control. He's very confident. Very composed for a young pitcher, but also he knows what he's doing. He's confident."

Axelrod, who has never faced Washington, went 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA over four road starts last season.

Haren, meanwhile, has gone 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three outings against the White Sox over the last two years.

Alex Rios is 4 for 9 against him in that span and is off to a hot start, posting a .419 average while hitting safely in all eight games. Rios went 2 for 4 with an RBI on Wednesday but saw his four-game homer streak come to an end.

Adam Dunn has gone 1 for his last 12 versus Haren with six strikeouts, but Jeff Keppinger is 8 for 16 lifetime against him.

Keppinger, batting just .133, started at second base Wednesday in place of Gordon Beckham, who is expected to miss about six weeks because of a broken bone in his left wrist.

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