The Washington Nationals are showing why they might again have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors.
Looking to start 3-0 for the first time since 2008, the Nationals have a chance to become the first team in 50 years to record a shutout in each of their first three games Thursday in their finale against the visiting Miami Marlins .
The Nationals franchise last shut out an opponent in three straight games May 24-26, 1989, while in Montreal. Washington is looking to become the first team to record shutouts in its first three games since the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals.
Washington led the NL with a 3.33 ERA in 2012 and has allowed two extra-base hits, struck out 14 and walked four in the first two games of 2013."It's not really hard to fathom. I look at this staff and that's what I expect," reliever Ryan Mattheus said. "I see (starting pitchers) 1 through 5. And then the bullpen down there, the seven guys we've got. I think there's going to be a lot of shutouts."
Miami, meanwhile, is trying to avoid being shut out in three straight games for the second consecutive season after having been blanked from Aug. 12-14."We've got a couple of guys that may be pressing a little bit," first-year manager Mike Redmond said. "But, you know, we'll be fine. We've just got to continue to go out there and keep grinding it out and get that first run across and take a little pressure off the guys."
The Nationals hand the ball to Jordan Zimmermann , who is coming off the best of his first four major league seasons by going 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 32 starts. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 4.43 ERA in eight starts versus Miami.
After hitting a pair of homers Monday, Washington's Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 Wednesday. He's batting .326 with six home runs during an 11-game hitting streak against the Marlins.
He's hitless in three at-bats against Miami starter Wade LeBlanc .
The left-hander spent a month in the Marlins bullpen last season when he was called up from the minors in July, then went 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in nine starts.
"He's a guy who is not able to rely on his (velocity)," Redmond told the Marlins' official website. "He's got to move the ball in and out, and he's got to change speeds. When he does that, and we've seen him do that, he's really good. And he's able to eat up some innings for us."
Though LeBlanc is making his first start against the Nationals, he's thrown five shutout innings of relief.
Making matters worse, Miami could be without first baseman Casey Kotchman after he left Wednesday's game with an apparent hamstring injury.
|March 31, 2013||Alfredo Silverio||60-Day DL||Sprained right elbow|
|March 31, 2013||Logan Morrison||60-Day DL||Recovery from right knee sirgery|
|March 31, 2013||Jose Ceda||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 27, 2013||Henderson Alvarez||15-Day DL||Mild right shoulder inflammation|
|March 24, 2013||Nathan Eovaldi||15-Day DL||Mild right shoulder inflammation|
|March 22, 2013||Joe Mahoney||15-Day DL||Intercostal strain|
|March 22, 2013||Christian Garcia||15-Day DL||Strained right forearm tendon|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A familiar cast of characters helped the Washington Nationals complete a lopsided, season-opening three-game sweep of the payroll-slashing, talent-trading Miami Marlins .
Now should come more of a test: a visit to the reigning NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds starting Friday.
In Washington's 6-1 victory over Miami in the finale Thursday - the combined series score was 11-1 - Jayson Werth tacked on a three-run homer, Ryan Zimmerman 's three hits included a two-run double, Bryce Harper had two more hits, and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann went six innings.
All were part of the core that won a majors-best 98 games in 2012 and is expected to be in the thick of things this season.
"The window's definitely open for us right now, and hopefully it'll stay open for a long time," Werth said. "But you've got to jump through that window at some point."
His homer in the seventh off reliever Mike Dunn is a sign that his broken left wrist of last season is gaining strength.
"I think you guys are a little bit more worried about my wrist than anybody else," Werth said. "I feel pretty confident in where I'm at."
Harper had another eventful day, collecting two hits for the third consecutive game, getting thrown out trying to steal third with cleanup hitter Zimmerman at the plate, and taking an elbow to the chin (or, as manager Davey Johnson put it, his "coconut") while scoring a run.
"Didn't really hurt too bad," Harper said. "Just was seeing if it was bleeding at the plate. Feels fine, though."
Zimmermann (1-0) followed sterling outings by Nationals starters Stephen Strasburg (seven scoreless innings Monday) and Gio Gonzalez (six scoreless innings Wednesday) by giving up only one run despite allowing eight hits. The Marlins got at least one runner on in every inning against Zimmermann.
"Obviously," Johnson noted, "Zim didn't have his greatest stuff."
Still, it was enough to make sure, in Zimmermann's words, that the Nationals would have "a little momentum going to Cincinnati."
Relievers Henry Rodriguez , Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen finished up, and Washington's bullpen has six shutout innings so far.
At least Miami finally scored, ending a 19-inning run drought in the second Thursday on Justin Ruggiano 's first-pitch homer to right off Zimmermann. The St. Louis Cardinals began the 1943 season with 26 scoreless innings against Cincinnati, the post-1900 major league record, according to STATS LLC.
"It's three games. I don't think anyone here is really panicking," Ruggiano said.
The Marlins have a payroll that's under $45 million this season after trading away several top players, including Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez . And yet this isn't exactly a new problem. Last season, they batted .244 - the worst average in franchise history - and scored 3.8 runs per game - their fewest since a 3.6 average in 1993, their expansion year.
"Definitely happy with the way we swung the bats today," said rookie manager Mike Redmond , whose Marlins are 15 for 90 so far, a .167 batting average. "We've just got to keep hanging in there and we'll get that big hit to push us over the top."
Miami's pitching was solid this series, and Wade LeBlanc (0-1) limited Washington to three runs - two earned - and five hits in five innings.
But Werth doubled his team's offensive output with one swing. The Nationals' transformation from a 100-loss club in 2008 and 2009 to a popular World Series has been quick, too.
"We've gone from an up-and-coming team to a (division) championship team," Werth said, "in a very short period of time."
NOTES: During Washington-area MASN's TV coverage of the game, viewers were shown side-by-side video of the swings of Harper and a certain guy who went by the name Babe Ruth . ... While Harper and Zimmerman are both batting .500, 1B Adam LaRoche , SS Ian Desmond and 2B Danny Espinosa are a combined 1 for 31 after going 0 for 12 Thursday. Desmond's single Monday in the opener is the lone hit among that trio. ... RHP Chris Young agreed to a minor league contract with the Nationals. He will report to the team's spring training site in Florida for some bullpen sessions before joining Triple-A Syracuse. ... The Marlins plan to put 1B Casey Kotchman on the 15-day DL on Friday with a strained left hamstring.
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