Nationals-Mets Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals may be hopeful Bryce Harper can return to the lineup.

They should at least have Jayson Werth, and that may be enough to for the Nationals to continue their road dominance of the New York Mets on Wednesday night.

Harper has missed five of the last six games and four in a row with an ailing hip, but seems to be nearing a return.

"Running has not been that much of a problem," head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz told the team's official website. "Most of the time, it would be when he was swinging when it became really bothersome for him. Right now, he looks good."

Despite Harper's absence, the Nationals (75-69) have won four straight games. Tuesday's 6-3 victory over the Mets was their 17th in 21 visits to Citi Field.

Werth is powering Washington's winning streak, going 10 for 18 with two homers, five doubles, five RBIs and as many runs in four games. The right fielder had two doubles and a homer while driving in two runs Tuesday, giving him a .432 average with three homers, nine RBIs and 12 runs in his last 10 games versus New York (64-79).

He's also giving the Nationals some hope that they can cut into the six-game gap on Cincinnati for the NL's second wild-card spot, despite having only 18 contests left.

"It's not over," Werth said. "We're in a bad spot, that's for sure."

Harper's return could keep Washington rolling since he's a .333 hitter with three homers, seven RBIs and seven runs in nine games in Flushing.

Another big offensive showing may be needed since Dan Haren (8-13, 5.23 ERA) is expected to get the ball.

The right-hander is coming off two of the shortest outings of his career, including an 11-3 home defeat to the Mets on Aug. 31. He was pulled with two outs in the third inning, surrendering seven runs and nine hits.

Haren followed that up by giving up five runs in three innings of Friday's 7-0 loss at Miami.

"I'm at a loss for words," said Haren, who was 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA in seven games - six starts - prior to the loss to New York.

Facing the Mets again could prolong Haren's troubles. He's lost three of his last four starts against them behind a 9.68 ERA.

The Mets, though, are 2-7 since the latest meeting with Haren, and are expected to again counter with Zack Wheeler (7-4, 3.38). The rookie right-hander allowed two runs in 6 2-3 innings opposite Haren last month.

Wheeler was charged with Friday's 8-1 loss at Cleveland, allowing three runs in five innings. Still, manager Terry Collins is encouraged with the 23-year-old, who has a 2.65 ERA over his last six starts after compiling a 3.91 in his first nine.

"He's pitching a lot better," Collins told the team's official website. "I'll tell you, he's really gotten better, and that's why it's exciting to think, after experiencing what it's like to have a whole season up here, to think what you're going to have down the road. He learns, and he learns fast."

Wheeler allowed Werth to homer for his only hit in three at-bats against him.

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