The Washington Nationals have thrived with strong pitching all season, but now their bats are also hot.
The Atlanta Braves , meanwhile, have recently experienced more success on the mound.
The Nationals look to re-establish their success against the Braves and widen their NL East lead in a three-game series starting Friday night at Turner Field.
Washington (43-31) leads Atlanta (40-35) by 3 1/2 games atop the East, thanks largely to a major league-leading 3.11 staff ERA and in spite of a .245 team batting average.
However, the Nationals' bats awakened in the last three games of a four-game split at Colorado. They totaled 33 runs and 10 homers in those three contests, and plated 10 runs or more in three consecutive games for the first time since they did so as the Montreal Expos from June 10-13, 1995.
Washington racked up 14 hits - including three homers - Thursday, but fell 11-10 to the Rockies in 11 innings.
Michael Morse and Ian Desmond are each 8 for 15 with five RBIs over the last three games, which have come immediately after the Nationals batted .200 as a team and totaled five homers and 25 runs during a 3-7 slump.
Bryce Harper , whose solo homer Thursday forced extra innings, is 8 for 16 with three solo home runs in five meetings with the Braves. One of those homers came in a 3-2 home loss June 3, a defeat which snapped Washington's six-game winning streak in the series.
The Nationals swept their last three games in Atlanta from May 25-27.
The Braves lost 3-2 to Arizona on Thursday, failing to complete a three-game sweep. Atlanta starters were solid in the series, allowing six runs over 20 innings following a 4-9 slump during which they'd posted a 4.66 ERA and manager Fredi Gonzalez challenged his rotation to improve.
Randall Delgado (4-8, 4.52) is getting his first start since Gonzalez's challenge, and he's trying to rebound from his worst performance in the majors.
The rookie right-hander has lost his last three starts, and Saturday's 8-4 loss at Boston was particularly hideous. He was chased with one out in the second, getting charged with four runs and six hits while walking two and hitting another batter.
"When you bring a young starter along, there are going to be days where it's not going to look as good," Gonzalez told the Braves' official website. "Sometimes you're going to feel like the young man has turned the corner and then he takes a step backwards."
The Nationals will counter with Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.09 ERA), who is facing the Braves for the first time since surrendering three runs, five hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings May 25. That effort temporarily cost the left-hander a spot in the rotation, but Chien-Ming Wang wasn't much better, going 1-3 with a 6.62 ERA in four starts.
Detwiler is back trying to prove he should remain the Nationals' No. 5 starter, and he made a strong case in Monday's 2-1 loss at Baltimore, yielding four hits in five scoreless innings.
"To tell you the truth, the fifth starter needs to just eat up innings," Detwiler told the Nationals' official website. "Only going five? That's not the way to do it."
Detwiler is 1-0 with a 3.80 ERA in seven games - four starts - versus Atlanta. Braves left fielder Martin Prado is 6 for 12 with three doubles and a triple against him.
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|June 06, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained right index finger|
|May 30, 2012||Carlos Maldonado||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|June 17, 2012||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 16, 2012||Brandon Beachy||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right elbow soreness|
|June 13, 2012||Freddie Freeman||Day-to-Day||Left thumb discomfort|
|June 12, 2012||Eric O'Flaherty||Day-to-Day||Left elbow soreness|
|June 09, 2012||Tim Hudson||Day-to-Day||Bone spurs in left ankle|
|June 02, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
ATLANTA (AP) -- Michael Morse is regaining his power stroke, and that's helping the Washington Nationals stay on top of the NL East.
Morse had four hits, including the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning after Washington had blown a four-run lead, and the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-4 on Friday night.
More, who missed the first 50 games with a back injury, has four straight multihit games and is 13 for 23 in a five-game hitting streak.
"I'm starting to have better at-bats, starting to recognize pitches and see pitches," said Morse, who raised his batting average from .265 to .294.
Morse was under instructions to let manager Davey Johnson know if he had more tightness in his right hamstring, a problem that emerged this week in Colorado. Morse let Johnson know in the seventh inning "it was tightening up a little bit."
Morse's home run in the eighth allowed him to protect the hamstring as he casually jogged around the bases.
"I told him his swing kept him from running," Johnson said with a smile.
The homer was only the third for Morse but it was his second in two days. Morse, who hit 31 homers in his breakout season with Washington in 2011, hit a three-run homer at Colorado on Thursday.
"He's been looking better and better every day," Johnson said. "It's nice to have him back. ... We'll probably move him back into the cleanup spot."
Andrelton Simmons ' two-run homer off Ross Detwiler capped Atlanta's four-run seventh inning which erased the Nationals' 4-0 lead.
Morse had a quick answer by hitting right-hander Chad Durbin 's first pitch over the wall in right field leading off the eighth.
"He's got a lot of juice going that way," Durbin said. "We come back, score four, it would have been nice to keep it even."
The Nationals, who swept a three-game series in Atlanta on May 25-27, are 5-1 against the Braves this season. First-place Washington is 4 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta. The Nationals began the night 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mets.
Jesus Flores homered and Ian Desmond had a two-run single for Washington.
Sean Burnett (1-1) gave up one hit in 1 1-3 scoreless innings. Tyler Clippard gave up a leadoff double to Freddie Freeman in the ninth before recovering for his 13th save.
Clippard walked Martin Prado with one out, putting runners on first and second. Michael Bourn flied out to center and Clippard ended the game on Simmons' flyball to right.
"You want the games like this, because you want the emotional games," Simmons said. "You want to battle and win. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you accomplished something. But after battling that much and losing, it hurts."
Durbin (3-1) gave up two hits and a run while recording two outs in the eighth. Jonny Venters struck out Bryce Harper with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Detwiler allowed only two hits through six scoreless innings, but he couldn't hold the 4-0 lead in the seventh.
Detwiler hit Freeman with a pitch and then bobbled a bunt by Jack Wilson , who was awarded an infield hit. A balk by Detwiler moved the runners to second and third.
Pinch-hitter Prado's single drove in Freeman. Bourn's fly ball scored Wilson, and Simmons followed with his tying two-run homer, knocking Detwiler out of the game.
Detwiler gave up four runs, five hits and a walk in 6 2-3 innings.
Randall Delgado lasted only four innings, giving up seven hits and four runs, two earned.
Delgado was hurt by third-inning errors by second baseman Jack Wilson and Simmons, the rookie shortstop, which led to two unearned runs.
Wilson, starting at second base for the first time this season, dropped a grounder by Adam LaRoche for the first error with two outs. Morse singled past Chipper Jones at third. Simmons retrieved the ball in shallow left and threw past Wilson at second base for another error, allowing the runners to advance. Desmond drove in LaRoche and Morse with a single to left.
Detwiler was 0-for-14 this season before his second-inning single drove in Morse, who had singled, for Washington's first run. Flores pushed the lead to 4-0 with his homer off Delgado in the fourth.
NOTES: The temperature for the first pitch was 101 degrees. ... Braves 2B Dan Uggla , hitting only .156 (12 for 77) in June, received his first day off this season. ... Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to rest Jones on Saturday and C Brian McCann on Sunday. ... Prado did not start. Gonzalez says Prado has been playing with a sore right hamstring. ... Nationals RHP Drew Storen , recovering from a right elbow injury, moved closer to an injury rehabilitation assignment by throwing to hitters before the regular batting practice. Johnson said Storen could return before the All-Star break. ... Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg will try for his 10th win when he faces Braves LHP Mike Minor in the second game of the three-game series on Saturday.