Marlins-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals are showing why they might again have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors.

Looking to start 3-0 for the first time since 2008, the Nationals have a chance to become the first team in 50 years to record a shutout in each of their first three games Thursday in their finale against the visiting Miami Marlins.

Two days after Stephen Strasburg and two relievers held Miami to three hits in Washington's opening 2-0 victory, Gio Gonzalez and three others yielded four in Wednesday's 3-0 win.

The Nationals franchise last shut out an opponent in three straight games May 24-26, 1989, while in Montreal. Washington is looking to become the first team to record shutouts in its first three games since the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals.

Washington led the NL with a 3.33 ERA in 2012 and has allowed two extra-base hits, struck out 14 and walked four in the first two games of 2013.

"It's not really hard to fathom. I look at this staff and that's what I expect,'' reliever Ryan Mattheus said. "I see (starting pitchers) 1 through 5. And then the bullpen down there, the seven guys we've got. I think there's going to be a lot of shutouts.''

Miami, meanwhile, is trying to avoid being shut out in three straight games for the second consecutive season after having been blanked from Aug. 12-14.

"We've got a couple of guys that may be pressing a little bit,'' first-year manager Mike Redmond said. "But, you know, we'll be fine. We've just got to continue to go out there and keep grinding it out and get that first run across and take a little pressure off the guys.''

The Nationals hand the ball to Jordan Zimmermann, who is coming off the best of his first four major league seasons by going 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 32 starts. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 4.43 ERA in eight starts versus Miami.

After hitting a pair of homers Monday, Washington's Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 Wednesday. He's batting .326 with six home runs during an 11-game hitting streak against the Marlins.

He's hitless in three at-bats against Miami starter Wade LeBlanc.

The left-hander spent a month in the Marlins bullpen last season when he was called up from the minors in July, then went 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in nine starts.

"He's a guy who is not able to rely on his (velocity)," Redmond told the Marlins' official website. "He's got to move the ball in and out, and he's got to change speeds. When he does that, and we've seen him do that, he's really good. And he's able to eat up some innings for us."

Though LeBlanc is making his first start against the Nationals, he's thrown five shutout innings of relief.

Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre each have two of the seven hits for the Marlins, who went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position Wednesday.

Making matters worse, Miami could be without first baseman Casey Kotchman after he left Wednesday's game with an apparent hamstring injury.

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