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National League Preview from The Sports Network

Tuesday, July 17th (All times Eastern)

New York Mets (46-43) at Washington Nationals (51-36), 7:05 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: New York - Jon Niese (7-4, 3.73) Washington - Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.43)

(Sports Network) - Looking to avoid their first five-game losing streak of the season, the New York Mets turn tonight to Jon Niese in the opener of a three- game series against the first-place Washington Nationals.

Having lost four in a row for the second time in a month, the Mets have slipped six games back of the Nationals for the top spot in the division. Washington, meanwhile, owns just a 2 1/2-game edge over second-place Atlanta.

Niese started the Mets' final game before the All-Star break and was shelled for seven runs on nine hits over seven innings of a 7-0 defeat to the Cubs on July 8. It was his first defeat since June 16 as the left-hander had allowed four runs over a three-start win streak that spanned 21 1/3 frames.

Niese did pitch at least six innings for the seventh outing in a row and is 7-4 with a 3.73 earned run average in 17 starts this season. The 25-year-old has never lost to the Nationals, going 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA in four meetings.

Following that loss to the Cubs, the Mets were swept in three games by the Braves after the break, with the set ending on Sunday in a 6-1 defeat for New York.

Johan Santana rolled through the first four innings of his start, but was touched for six runs in the fifth frame. The left-hander saw a couple of close pitches go in the Braves' favor and New York pitching coach Dan Warthen was ejected in the frame by home-plate umpire C.B.Bucknor during a visit to the mound.

"We felt we threw good pitches, we didn't get the call," Santana said. "It's tough when we have a game like this, that one pitch can be the difference, but I didn't question anything, I was doing my job. It's too bad that a couple of pitches changed the whole game."

The Nationals are also coming off a loss, having settled for a split of a four-game set against the Marlins with yesterday's 5-3 loss.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot hitting with a double and home run, and Michael Morse added three hits, but starter Edwin Jackson yielded four runs over five-plus frames.

"At the end of the day you have to get the job done," Jackson said. "Today, I just never really could get into a rhythm."

Zimmerman's homer was his seventh in his past 16 games and he has added 19 RBI over that span while hitting .373. That surge has upped the third baseman's season average to .258.

The Nationals hand the ball tonight to Ross Detwiler, who makes his fourth start since returning to the rotation and first since July 5 against the Giants.

Detwiler escaped with a no-decision in his most recent outing, a 6-5 Nats victory, after struggling over five frames. He was touched for 11 hits and two walks, but limited the damage to three runs. That left him 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 18 games this season, including 12 starts.

The 26-year-old lefty has picked up a victory over the Mets this season as both a starter and in relief. Detwiler won his season debut at New York on April 10 with five scoreless innings of two-hit ball, then came out of the bullpen to earn a victory on June 5, which was also the last time he earned a decision.

Detwiler is 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in his career versus the Mets.

Both New York and Washington could see the return of some injured players in tonight's opener.

The Nats may have shortstop Ian Desmond back in the starting lineup for the first time in three games due to a nagging left oblique injury that also caused him to sit out the All-Star game. Desmond is batting .287 on the season with 17 homers and 52 RBI.

Jason Bay, meanwhile, could be activated off the seven-day disabled list by the Mets after suffering a concussion on June 15. He played his third rehab game with Triple-A Buffalo on Monday, going 0-for-2 with a pair of walks.

Bay was 3-for-10 in the three games without an RBI and is hitting just .187 in 22 games with the Mets this season.

The Nationals have won eight of their last 10 against the Mets, including four of six so far this season.

07/17 17:16:38 ET