While their injury issues have played a role in their recent slump, the Washington Nationals could get a boost offensively in the opener of a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ryan Zimmerman will likely return to the lineup on Friday night as he looks to help the Nationals win their third straight on a seven-game road trip.After hitting .282 with 25 homers and 95 RBIs in 2012, Zimmerman was batting .226 with one homer and 11 RBIs before suffering a hamstring injury that has forced him to miss the last 14 games.Without the star third baseman, Washington has scored 37 runs while batting .197 with nine homers.The Nationals (15-14) scored three times over the first two innings Thursday before coming up empty the rest of the way in a 3-1 victory that gave them a four-game split in Atlanta.Bryce Harper was able to play after bruising his left shoulder a day earlier, but Jayson Werth could miss this series after leaving for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. Werth had missed the previous two games with a strained right hamstring and bruised left ankle.Zimmerman, though, is expected to be in the lineup after going 0 for 3 in his final rehab game with High-A Potomac on Wednesday."Hopefully, we're getting close to being full strength," manager Davey Johnson told the league's official website. "Zim came through Wednesday's rehab game all right. He's going to work out, and then he will join us on Friday."Although Zimmerman is batting .375 (24 for 64) in 16 games at PNC Park, he's hitless in six at-bats against Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett (2-2, 2.83 ERA).The Pirates (16-12), who have won three straight at home, send the veteran right-hander to the mound as they look to build on a 6-4 trip.After losing two of his first three starts, Burnett has started to find his groove with a 2-0 record and 2.00 ERA over his last three.Burnett, who ranks among the major league leaders with 48 strikeouts in 35 innings, allowed two runs and struck out 10 over eight innings as Pittsburgh rallied for a 5-4 win over Washington at PNC Park on May 8.Adam LaRoche is in the middle of a 2-for-38 slump but has six hits, including a homer and two doubles, in 18 at-bats against Burnett.Denard Span, who went 3 for 4 with two RBIs on Thursday, is 7 for 21 when facing Burnett.Washington will counter with left-hander Ross Detwiler (1-2, 2.03), who has given up two runs over 13 innings in a pair of road starts.He'll try to bounce back from his worst outing of the season as he allowed four runs and a career high-tying 11 hits in five innings of a 5-2 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.In his only start at PNC Park, Detwiler surrendered three runs and seven hits over six innings in a 4-2 loss May 9.Andrew McCutchen is hitting .442 with 10 homers and 21 RBIs in 23 games versus the Nationals and has singled in each of his three at-bats against Detwiler.