Brewers-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

After ending June and opening July with double-digit run totals, the Washington Nationals have again gone cold at the plate.

The Nationals hope to get their offense back on track and avoid their first series loss at home in nearly two months Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Though Washington (42-42) is among the majors' lowest-scoring teams with 306 runs, it displayed some pre-Fourth of July fireworks by totaling 23 runs and 26 hits in victories over the New York Mets and Milwaukee on Sunday and Monday, respectively.

The Nationals had 17 extra-base hits over those two games but have only one in the last two. They stranded 10 runners in Tuesday's 4-0 loss to the Brewers (34-49) and were held to five hits in a 4-1 defeat Wednesday. Rookie infielder Anthony Rendon homered in the seventh inning to snap Washington's 15-inning scoreless drought.

"It's putting me in my loony bin," manager Davey Johnson said of his team's offensive issues.

"It looks like we're getting good at-bats. We're just not getting it done. I don't have any answers."

Star outfielder Bryce Harper is 0 for 8 in the last two games after homering Monday in his return after missing more than a month with bursitis in his knee. His costly error led to two Milwaukee runs in the sixth inning Wednesday, and he missed a fly ball during the Brewers' four-run eighth Tuesday.

Harper has hit .138 in his last eight games at Nationals Park, where Washington has not lost a series since dropping two of three to the Cubs from May 10-12. A defeat Thursday would saddle the Nationals with their fourth home series loss of the year after having five throughout last season.

Washington is expected to have catcher Wilson Ramos for the first time since straining his hamstring in mid-May. He's hit .250 with two homers and six RBIs in 14 games.

The Nationals hope to bounce back against Milwaukee rookie Donovan Hand (0-1, 2.63 ERA), who has thrown 86 of 116 pitches for strikes in two career starts.

Both of them came last month as he pitched 9 2-3 innings and allowed two runs - both solo homers over five frames of a 2-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

"Other than the home runs, I felt good about the way I pitched," Hand said. "I kept us in the ballgame for five and gave us a chance to win."

Manager Ron Roenicke has been pleased with the right-hander, who has a 3.14 ERA in nine relief appearances this season.

"I thought Donny threw the ball really well," said Roenicke, whose team has won two in a row following a six-game slide. "He understands how to pitch, he understands how to throw strikes."

Fellow rookie Taylor Jordan (0-1, 2.08) will make his first career home start for Washington. The right-hander gave up three runs - one earned - and five hits with two walks in 4 1-3 innings of a 5-1 loss to the New York Mets in his major league debut Saturday.

"I liked what I saw. First good outing," Johnson said of Jordan, who went a combined 9-1 with a 1.00 ERA at Double-A and Class-A this year.

He'll try to cool off Milwaukee leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki, who is 6 for 15 with three RBIs in the series after batting .175 with an RBI in his previous 11.

Talented Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, however, is 1 for 16 in his last three games following a 12-game hitting streak in which he batted .347.

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