Runs and hits have become difficult to come by for the Washington Nationals and perhaps a return home will ignite a team that's supposed to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Nationals are back in D.C. for five straight games and went 4-6 on a 10- game western road trip. The homestand starts Friday night with the opener of a three-game series versus the NL East-rival Philadelphia Phillies, followed by a quick two-game set with the nearby Baltimore Orioles.
Washington halted a four-game slide and salvaged the finale of its series against the San Francisco Giants with Wednesday's 2-1 win in 10 innings. Ian Desmond stroked the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the 10th and Bryce Harper homered. Nats manager Davey Johnson was glad to be heading east on a positive note.
"Glad to be going home and coming home with a win," Johnson said.
Gio Gonzalez pitched well in the no-decision and limited the defending World Series champions to a run over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two, while Tyler Clippard hurled a scoreless ninth for the win and Rafael Soriano closed the door in the 10th for his 13th save. Soriano blew the save in Tuesday's 4-2 loss. He also blew a save May 17 at San Diego, but was credited with the win.
Jordan Zimmermann started the following game against the Padres and had his personal four-start winning streak come to an end, as the right-hander gave up two runs -- one earned -- in eight innings with six strikeouts and no walks in a 2-1 loss. Zimmerman, who gets the ball Friday, is still a strong 7-2 in nine starts with a 1.62 earned run average.
Zimmermann needs the offense to wake up in this meeting with the Phillies, a team he is only 1-4 against in six career starts to go along with a 5.06 ERA. Washington is second-to-last in the majors in average (.225) and on-base percentage (.289). The Nats are 28th in runs scored with 159 and have compiled just nine in the previous five games.
The Phillies have posted 14 runs in the last five games, but 10 have come in the past two, including a 3-0 verdict over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday in the finale of a three-game set. Cliff Lee was dominant in his 12th career shutout and tossed a three-hitter with five K's and two walks. He even added a pair of hits at the plate.
"I feel like I got better as the game went on," Lee told the club's website. "The last three innings, I felt as good as I have in a long time. Hit the ball right where I wanted. The first six innings was kind of trying to mix speeds and locate somewhat, but I just felt more crisp after the sixth.
"Seems like we're playing good. We're playing well-rounded baseball."
Philadelphia has been playing well with seven wins in the last 10 games. The club hopes to stay on track without star second baseman Chase Utley because of a stint on the 15-day disabled list due to a strained oblique muscle on his right side. Utley underwent an MRI Thursday and the team confirmed he suffered a "very mild" Grade 1 strain and should be ready to return in 15 days.
"We do believe and hope that Chase will be ready to play in Philadelphia within 15 days," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said in a statement.
Utley has been bothered by knee issues in the past and is batting .272 this season with seven homers and 25 RBI. Utley went 0-for-3 the last time Kyle Kendrick took the hill in Saturday's 10-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Kendrick draws the start Friday and was pounded by the Reds to the tune of four runs and eight hits in six innings. Kendrick entered the game 4-0 in seven starts and the Phils had won five straight appearances by the right- hander.
Kendrick, who is 2-0 in four road starts this season, looks to even his career mark against the Nationals. In 19 games (17 starts), he is 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA.
The Phillies and Nationals split 18 meetings a season ago, but Washington has won four of the last five in this series.