Reds-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

As unimpressive as the Washington Nationals' starting pitchers had been lately, their performances against the Cincinnati Reds this week couldn't have been much better.

Dan Haren, looking to turn around his own struggles, gets the next shot at Cincinnati's recently anemic offense Saturday in the nation's capital.

Washington's rotation was 2-7 with a 4.78 ERA in its previous 10 outings entering this four-game set.

The Nationals (12-11) ended a four-game skid with a series-opening 8-1 win Thursday as Gio Gonzalez gave up one hit through eight innings. Their offense didn't break out in similar fashion Friday, but it didn't need to as Jordan Zimmermann limited the Reds to one hit in a 1-0 victory.

Zimmermann needed only 91 pitches to record his first career shutout, as the Reds (13-11) were held to one hit in back-to-back games for the first time since July 5-6, 1900, against Brooklyn.

"My guys, if they attack hitters like the last two days, it's going to be a problem," manager Davey Johnson said of his pitchers. "I don't care, good hitting team, bad hitting team."

Johnson would like to see Haren (1-3, 7.36 ERA) take the same approach, as he walked as many batters in his last start - three - as Gonzalez and Zimmermann in the last two days combined.

Haren did yield a season-low six hits Monday in a loss to St. Louis, but he still hasn't gone longer than five-plus innings this year and is averaging a career-worst 20.2 pitches per inning.

"I have to just stay positive," Haren told the team's official website. "It's been eating at me, it really has. This week, I tried to make a conscious effort to have more fun out there and not to put so much stress on myself. I want to do well more than anybody."

Haren was already blasted by Cincinnati for six runs and nine hits, including a career worst-tying four homers, in four innings of a 15-0 loss in his season debut April 5.

But the Reds, 1-7 on the road, don't currently appear capable of producing anything close to that. They've lost three of four while totaling four runs and 16 hits. Cincinnati averaged 5.6 runs in 20 games prior to that stretch.

Brandon Phillips, the team leader with 21 RBIs, was hitless for the fourth straight game Friday. Shin-Soo Choo, leading the majors in on-base percentage at .505, didn't reach base for the first time this season.

"Things go in streaks and sometimes there's no explaining why," manager Dusty Baker said. "We went through this last year. There was a streak when you couldn't buy a run and another streak when you get all the runs you need or want, or even more than you want. Right now we're in that can't buy a run phase."

Cincinnati hopes to pick up its offense in support of Mike Leake (1-0, 3.81), who posted two subpar starts to begin the season but has since had two good ones as he allowed two runs over 14 innings.

Leake will need to turn around his recent struggles against the Nationals, who scored 11 runs in 9 1-3 innings against him last season. He wasn't much better against Washington on April 6, giving up four runs - all on two homers - and walking four over six innings in a 7-6, 11-inning loss.

Bryce Harper homered off Leake in that game and is 3 for 6 with three extra-base hits in this series.

Jayson Werth is 6 for 15 off Leake, including 2 for 3 earlier this month.

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