Nats head to Miami for key NL East series

The National League East-leading Washington Nationals will begin the final stretch of their nine-game road trip when they play the first of three straight games against the Miami Marlins this afternoon.

Washington is 2 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta and 3 1/2 games in front of Miami in the division standings and just swept the Braves in three games at Turner Field this weekend. The Nationals completed the trifecta with Sunday's 7-2 victory, as Bryce Harper homered and Jesus Flores recorded three hits and a pair of runs batted in. Steve Lombardozzi also drove in a two runs for the Nationals, winners in six of their last seven games.

Flores left the game in the seventh inning with a hamstring injury suffered while running the bases. The catcher is day-to-day. Carlos Maldonado replaced Flores behind the plate and is expected to start on Monday in Miami.

"I don't think it's a big deal, but we want it to be safe and avoid any risk of any [serious] injury," Flores said.

Gio Gonzalez started for the Nationals and struck out 10 batters in seven innings for the win. Gonzalez allowed just one hit, three walks and two runs, and knocked in a run for the first time in his career.

"I was just going out there trying to see if I could hang with the rest of the rotation, especially the way these guys are throwing the ball," said Gonzalez. "It's been fun. The rotation has been looking good and all I'm just trying to do is keep up with it."

With the win, the Nationals improved to 29-18 on the season and are 11 games over .500 for the first time since their inaugural season in DC when they were 55-44 after playing their 99th game on July 25, 2005. They are 5-1 so far on the current road trip and 11-3 against division foes.

Jordan Zimmermann hopes to push the Nats 12 games over .500 when he takes the mound today. He has won two of his last three starts and pitched six innings of one-run ball in last Tuesday's 5-2 win at Philadelphia, lifting his record to 3-4 in nine starts to go along with a 2.47 earned run average.

Zimmermann is 3-1 in four road starts this season, but is 0-2 with a 4.55 ERA in five career starts against the Marlins.

Miami split a four-game series with the San Francisco Giants and was aiming for a series win until a 3-2 loss in Sunday's finale. It is 4-3 on a 10-game homestand.

Ricky Nolasco was saddled with the loss for allowing three runs and five hits in seven innings of work. Giants starter Matt Cain allowed two runs -- one earned -- over 6 2/3 innings.

"Good pitching match," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Nolasco threw the ball very well and Cain threw the ball like he always does. ... We knew coming into this game it was going to be a close game because Cain was on the mound."

Chris Coghlan had two hits and an RBI, while Jose Reyes knocked in a run for the Marlins, who fell to 18-8 in May and remain one victory shy of tying the franchise record for most wins in a month. They won 19 games in August of 1997, the year they won the World Series.

Guillen will pin pitching duties on Carlos Zambrano today and hopes to rebound from a recent loss. In last Wednesday's 8-4 setback to Colorado, Zambrano allowed a season-high seven runs and five hits in five innings of work. Big Z was 2-0 in three starts and fell to 2-3 on the season to go with a 2.85 ERA in nine starts.

The fiery right-hander lost to Washington back in April and is 8-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 16 career appearances, 13 of which have been starts, against the Nationals. Zambrano is 0-2 in four trips to the mound at Marlins Park.

Washington won two games from Miami in a rain-shortened series from April 20-21 and has won five of the past six meetings between the teams.