Reds-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals weren't sure if they'd get enough offense to contend in the NL East, but if their starting pitching continues to be this good, they may not need many runs.

The Cincinnati Reds don't need any more evidence.

The Nationals go for a sixth consecutive win and their first four-game sweep of the visiting Reds in 23 years Sunday as Ross Detwiler tries to build on an impressive season debut.

Washington didn't add much to an offense that finished 24th in runs last season, and leading run producer Michael Morse could miss the entire first half of 2012 with a lat strain, but the pitching staff got some significant upgrades.

A healthy Stephen Strasburg and the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson figured to provide a big boost, and so far they've done just that as the Nationals' rotation has a major league-best 1.75 ERA. Jackson bounced back from an unremarkable debut with a gem Saturday, tossing a two-hitter in Washington's 4-1 victory.

"No one wants to be the weakest link. And when you have a staff like that, to where it's competitive but it's fun, it's always great," Jackson said. "These guys, they put pressure on me today."

The Nationals are off to the franchise's first 7-2 start since 1981, the same year the Expos made the only playoff appearance in their history in Montreal. The last time the team swept the Reds (3-6) in four games was July 20-23, 1989.

Cincinnati didn't figure to have any issues scoring runs after having one of the NL's most prolific offenses in 2011, but so far it's not having much luck at the plate. The Reds have scored four runs in 32 innings in the nation's capital and are hitting .191 overall.

Through nine games a year ago, the Reds were hitting .315 and had scored at least seven runs five times.

They'll try to break through Sunday against Detwiler while looking to avoid their worst 10-game start since opening 2-8 in 1995 - a year they bounced back to win the NL Central. That may not be easy, though, after the left-hander held the Mets to two hits while striking out six over five scoreless innings Tuesday in a 6-2 win.

Detwiler, who spent much of spring training preparing to pitch out of the bullpen, threw only 71 pitches as manager Davey Johnson decided not to stretch him out.

"He's got such a live fastball. ... It's fun to watch," Johnson said. "He's kind of low-key, easygoing, but there's a lot of fire inside."

Detwiler has a 3.50 ERA in three career starts against the Reds, but hasn't gotten a lot of support while going 0-3. He pitched six innings in each of those outings.

He should see one extra threat Sunday as Brandon Phillips is expected back in the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a left hamstring cramp Monday. Phillips, who's 4 for 9 lifetime against Detwiler, struck out in a pinch-hit appearance Friday.

Mike Leake will oppose Detwiler coming off a start that went well for five innings. But after allowing only Carlos Beltran's first-inning homer heading into the sixth Tuesday against St. Louis, Leake gave up a two-run shot to David Freese that was the difference in a 3-1 loss.

"You always have pitches you want to take back," Leake told the Reds' official website. "You just have to move on."

Leake is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA in four starts against Washington.

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