Yankees-Nationals Preview

TOM CASTRO
The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals have built a solid lead in the NL East thanks in large part to an outstanding starting rotation. A similarly strong recent performance by the New York Yankees' starters has lifted the club into first place in its division.

Runs may be hard to come by when the Yankees visit the Nationals on Friday night in a matchup of clubs riding six-game winning streaks - currently the longest in the major leagues.

Washington (38-23) continued its roll Wednesday behind Stephen Strasburg, who turned in the latest strong outing by a Nationals starter with six innings of two-run ball in a 6-2 victory over Toronto. Strasburg, who departed because of a cut on his finger, is part of a young rotation that boasts a 2.94 ERA - best in baseball.

That's helped Washington to nine wins in 11 games and a 4 1/2-game advantage in the division.

"We're no longer a secret to anybody," said manager Davey Johnson, whose team has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of eight games. "We're a pretty good ballclub, and not just pitching."

The Nationals will send the surging Gio Gonzalez (8-2, 2.35 ERA) to the mound as they go for their first seven-game winning streak since an eight-game run June 10-18, 2011. The left-hander has gone 6-1 in his last seven starts and bounced back from a loss with a 4-2 victory over Boston on Saturday, allowing two runs in 6 1-3 innings.

Though he's been dominant this season, Gonzalez will be trying to turn around his fortunes versus New York. He went 1-4 with a 7.27 ERA in five matchups during his four years with Oakland and was doomed in part by wildness, walking 20 over 26 innings in those starts.

Gonzalez, though, has walked only 30 in 12 starts this season.

While Washington's starters have been pitching well for most of the year, the Yankees' rotation has become a strength of late after a slow start. The starters have posted a 2.02 ERA in the last 12 games - during which New York has gone 10-2 - and a 2.92 mark over the club's current 16-4 stretch.

Phil Hughes (6-5, 4.76) has mirrored the rotation's rise, going 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA in his last seven starts and giving up three or fewer runs in all but one. He defeated the Mets 4-2 on Saturday with 6 1-3 innings of two-run ball.

"Starting pitching has been the key," first baseman Mark Teixeira told the team's official website after that outing. "That's baseball for you. We feel really good about our starting pitching right now, and because of that, we can just go out there, play defense and score enough runs to win the game."

The Yankees' bullpen has been very good all season despite several injuries, posting a 2.70 ERA that's among the best in baseball, and one of its key members could return Friday. David Robertson is likely to be activated after being on the disabled list since May 15 with an oblique strain.

New York (37-25) will get its first look at Washington star rookie right fielder Bryce Harper, who's gone 7 for 13 in his last three games. Fellow rookie Tyler Moore hit his first two career home runs and had five RBIs on Wednesday, making him 6 for his last 12.

Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson has gone 7 for 20 with two homers during a five-game hitting streak.

The Nationals have won four of six meetings with the Yankees since moving to Washington from Montreal for the 2005 season.