Mets-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals have been soaring offensively in a bid to stay in the playoff chase, though they came up empty in the series opener.

It's not likely to get any easier against one of the league's top rookie hurlers.

The Nationals will try to bounce back at the plate and win for the ninth time in 11 games Saturday night when they host Zack Wheeler and the New York Mets.

Washington had averaged 6.3 runs and hit .318 while winning eight of nine before being limited to a pair of solo home runs and four other hits in Friday's 3-2 loss to the Mets (61-72).

Although Ryan Zimmerman went 2 for 4 to raise his average to .381 over his last 10 games, Bryce Harper went 0 for 4 to end his career-best 11-game hitting streak. In his final at-bat, Harper failed to run hard on a groundout with men on first and second in the eighth inning.

"I don't think he does it intentionally, but he's going to have to start picking it up a little bit because we've got everybody else doing it,'' said bench coach Randy Knorr, who filled in after manager Davey Johnson left due to illness. "It's something that we've got to fix."

The Nationals (68-66) remain 6 1/2 games back of Cincinnati for the second wild-card spot following the Reds' loss in Colorado.

They'll attempt to get the bats going and chip away at that deficit against Wheeler (6-3, 3.42 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA in his last five road starts - all New York victories.

Wheeler has also been tough in his last four outings overall, going 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA with 28 strikeouts over 25 2-3 innings.

Following the loss of All-Star starter Matt Harvey to a torn elbow ligament, the Mets are likely to have their rookie right-hander on a pitch count after limiting him to 105 in his last start.

"I understand but I really want to be out there,'' Wheeler said. "It's definitely going to be a while before any of us get back up there in pitch count. It's not their fault, but it's just human when your best pitcher goes down.''

The Nationals have been one of the few opponents who have been able to get to Wheeler, tagging him for a season-worst five runs and six hits over 4 2-3 innings in a 13-2 win on June 30.

Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth both homered off Wheeler, while Denard Span went 2 for 3 with a double.

Washington counters with right-hander Dan Haren (8-11, 4.66), who will try to stop the Mets from winning their fourth in five games following a five-game skid.

Haren has a chance to win his fifth straight decision, though he surrendered a four-run first inning before settling down and leaving after the seventh without a decision in Sunday's 6-4 loss at Kansas City. He had gone 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in his previous five starts.

Though Haren was tagged for five runs over four frames in a 10-1 loss to the Mets on June 5, he struck out six while yielding one run and three hits over seven innings in a 4-1 victory July 27.

Daniel Murphy went 2 for 4 in the first meeting with Haren and is 7 for 11 with three doubles over his last three games overall.

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