An outstanding pitching performance helped them finally beat the Atlanta Braves, but the Washington Nationals still have injury concerns and an offensive slump holding them back.
After ending a nine-game losing streak to the NL East leaders, the Nationals will try to earn a split of this four-game series Thursday night at Turner Field.Jordan Zimmerman gave up two hits over eight superb innings and Ian Desmond hit a two-run homer in a rare 2-0 victory over the Braves (17-10) on Wednesday as Washington (14-14) snapped a three-game skid overall."We needed that one bad and he went out and pitched a blueprint game," manager Davey Johnson said.Johnson received some good news on Wednesday with ace Stephen Strasburg expected to make his next scheduled start after experiencing no pain during a bullpen session.Jayson Werth, however, missed his second game in a row with a strained right hamstring and a bruised left ankle and Bryce Harper had to leave in the middle of the sixth after tweaking his left side on a check swing.The Nationals don't want to lose Werth or Harper for a significant amount of time with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (hamstring) likely returning this weekend."If I can play," Harper said, "I'm going to play. I can tolerate pain. Hopefully nothing will keep me out of the lineup."Washington's depleted lineup has managed just seven runs and a dismal .165 batting average over its last four games.It won't get any easier for the Nationals considering their recent track record against Atlanta's Kris Medlen (1-3, 3.26 ERA).Medlen was dominant in two starts against Washington last season, allowing one run and striking out 20 over 14 innings in a pair of Atlanta victories.After limiting opponents to three earned runs and 15 hits over 19 innings in his first three starts this season, the right-hander has taken a step back lately with eight runs and 17 hits allowed in consecutive losses.He'll try to recover from one of the worst outings of his career after he surrendered five runs and 10 hits -- including a pair of homers -- over 5 1/3 innings in a 7-4 loss at Detroit on Saturday.Adam LaRoche, a career .177 hitter in 57 games against Atlanta, will try to break out of his 1 for 35 slide overall.Washington right-hander Dan Haren (2-3, 6.29 ERA) hopes to build off his promising performance in a 6-3 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday. He allowed two runs and six hits over a season-high six innings."I finally feel like part of the team," said Haren, who was signed as a free agent this offseason. "I've got to be like this or better the rest of the year. There's no excuse for me not to be."Haren has won two of three career starts at Turner Field despite a 7.31 ERA, though those victories came back in 2004 and 2005.B.J. Upton, who went 0 for 3 on Wednesday and is hitting .138 on the season, has struck out 11 times but has five homers and 10 hits in 31 career at-bats against Haren.Atlanta, which ranks near the top of the majors in home runs and strikeouts, has whiffed 80 times but only has three home runs over the last seven games."That's what we're billed as," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Teams that aren't striking out are probably complaining they don't have any power."