Braves-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

In a rotation featuring some of the game's best young pitchers, Gio Gonzalez is perhaps shining brightest for the Washington Nationals.

After mowing down the Braves last weekend, Gonzalez tries to defeat the Braves again and become the first Nationals pitcher in seven years to win six consecutive starts as these NL East rivals conclude a rain-shortened two-game set in the nation's capital Sunday.

Acquired from Oakland in the offseason, Gonzalez - along with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann - is a big reason why division-leading Washington (30-21) also leads the majors with a 2.95 staff ERA.

The Braves (28-25) know all too well just how dominant these Nationals can be on the hill. Washington has outscored Atlanta 31-11 during a six-game winning streak in the series - four of those games coming this season - extending that run Saturday with a 2-0 victory.

Strasburg, pushed back a day after Friday's series opener got rained out, struck out nine over seven innings to outduel Brandon Beachy and help the Nationals snap a three-game overall skid. Catcher Jesus Flores homered and Xavier Nady had a pinch-hit RBI double for Washington's offense.

It was the ninth loss in 11 games for the Braves, who could be in for another long day at the plate versus Gonzalez (7-1, 2.04 ERA). The crafty left-hander tied a season high with 10 strikeouts over seven innings of last Sunday's 7-2 win at Turner Field, surrendering two runs, one hit and three walks.

Gonzalez, 11-1 with a 1.79 ERA over his last 14 starts dating to September with the Athletics, has a chance to become the first Nationals pitcher to win six straight starts since current Atlanta reliever Livan Hernandez accomplished the feat April 24-May 19, 2005.

"He's better than I expected," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of Gonzalez. "I knew he was a good pitcher. I knew he made the (2011) All-Star team with Oakland. But I thought he was a little wilder."

Atlanta tries to get back on track behind Tommy Hanson (5-4, 3.84). The right-hander is coming off his shortest outing of the year, yielding a season-high six runs and eight hits in 3 1-3 innings of Monday's 8-2 loss to St. Louis.

"A lot of our loss (Monday) was my inability to go out, compete and give us a chance to win," Hanson said. "Giving up six runs in three innings ... isn't going to get the job done. I take a lot of the blame."

Hanson could be looking forward to getting back on the road, where he's 4-2 with a 2.41 ERA in seven starts. However, he's 0-3 with a 4.73 ERA in his last five outings versus the Nationals.

Despite his struggles against Washington, Hanson has had his way with Nationals corner infielders Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. Zimmerman is 3 for 18 with seven strikeouts in their matchups, while LaRoche is 1 for 10.

Washington outfielder Michael Morse went 0 for 4 on Saturday in his season debut after missing the first two months due to a strained right lat suffered during spring training.

Atlanta could be without catcher Brian McCann after he was hit in the knee by a wild pitch and forced to leave Saturday's loss early.

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