Nationals hope to gain ground on NL East-leading Braves

The Washington Nationals hope star outfielder Bryce Harper can make a healthy return to the lineup Friday in the opener of a three-game series against the NL East-rival Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Sidelined the past four games with bursitis in his left knee, Harper originally suffered the injury on May 13 when he collided with the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium. He then aggravated the knee sliding in Sunday's 6-1 win over Philadelphia.

"I had a good talk with him yesterday," Nationals manager Davey Johnson told the club's website Thursday. "He hit yesterday and he's going to try and do a little more today. He's shooting for tomorrow."

Harper has a hit in each of his last four games and is batting .287 with 12 homers and 23 RBI in 44 games. In 25 career games against the Braves, Harper has a .213 batting average, five homers and seven RBI.

The Nationals could have used their young outfielder in Thursday's 2-0 loss at Baltimore, as they compiled only three hits and watched starting pitcher Dan Haren surrender both runs and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings.

"We have a good team, maybe some of our approach has to change. We just have to play better. We are capable of playing better, it is time to go," said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who had one of the three hits.

Washington has dropped two in a row and four of six games, and will try to trim its 5 1/2-game deficit in the NL East.

The Nationals will have their horse on the mound Friday, as Stephen Strasburg is set to make his 12th start of the season. Strasburg is 2-0 in his previous three starts and struck out nine batters over eight innings of one-run ball in a 6-1 rout of the Phillies on Sunday. He scattered five hits and pushed his record to 3-5 with a 2.49 earned run average.

Strasburg, who was 0-5 in seven starts before his current unbeaten run, is 0-1 in two outings against the Braves this season and 3-4 with a 3.51 ERA in nine career starts in this series.

The NL East-leading Braves opened an eight-game homestand with a two-game split versus the Toronto Blue Jays.

In Thursday's 11-3 drubbing of the Jays, Reed Johnson and Freddie Freeman both homered, Ramiro Pena had three hits and four RBI and Evan Gattis ended 3-for-4 with three runs scored in the 16-hit attack for Atlanta, winners in 10 of 13 games.

Mike Minor drew the start for the Braves and yielded three runs -- two earned -- in seven innings for the win. Jordan Walden and Alex Wood both tossed a scoreless inning of relief.

"I felt good again (and) obviously the bats were going," Minor said. "It felt good just to get a win against a tough team like this."

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez rested starters Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward on Thursday and all three are expected back in the lineup tonight.

Julio Teheran gets the call for Gonzalez's club Friday and is 3-1 with a 3.67 earned run average over nine starts. Teheran has allowed only one run in each of his last two starts and did not record a decision Sunday in a 4-2 road loss against the New York Mets. He yielded a run and five hits in 6 2/3 innings, struck out five and issued three walks.

Teheran, a right-hander, has faced the Nationals twice this season and received no-decisions in both to go along with a 4.76 ERA.

The Braves will also host Pittsburgh on their homestand and have taken five of seven meetings with Washington this season. Atlanta is 9-2 in the last 11 matchups with the Nationals.