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Sat, Apr 7, 2012 - 1:05 PM ET
 

Nationals-Cubs Preview

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Matt Garza had a strong finish to 2011, but his transition from the AL to the NL after being dealt last offseason from Tampa Bay to the Chicago Cubs didn't start so well.

Gio Gonzalez hopes his goes more smoothly.

Gonzalez opposes Garza in his Washington Nationals debut Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Washington acquired Gonzalez for four prospects in December after the left-hander went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA for Oakland last season, then signed him to a five-year, $42 million extension in January.

Gonzalez said he's prepared for the challenge of switching leagues, though hitting each start is something he must get used to. He went 0 for 7 in his previous plate appearances in NL parks during interleague play.

"I'm trying to make the adjustment of trying to be a hitter and a pitcher at the same time," Gonzalez told the team's official website. "Little by little, I feel like I'm making great and positive steps, and making contact with the ball. I'm not saying I'm going to be the best hitter in the world, but at least I'm going to make adjustments to get the job done."

Garza began his NL career 2-6 with a 3.84 ERA in his first 11 starts, but he went 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA over his final six to finish 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA.

While Garza hopes he can carry over his late 2011 success, he said his focus is to get the Cubs into the playoffs despite this being viewed as a rebuilding year in general manager Theo Epstein's first season.

"October -- that's it," Garza told the team's official website. "We get to October, then all the personal stuff will come with it. To me, team accolades are way more important. Getting us to a place where we need to be, where we should be. Getting back to October and fighting for the pennant."

Garza is 0-1 with a 7.90 ERA in three career starts against the Nationals, who won each team's season-opener 2-1 on Thursday.

Washington trailed 1-0 in the eighth inning, but Jayson Werth drew a bases-loaded walk from Cubs reliever Kerry Wood to tie it. Ian Desmond, who had three of his team's four hits, then hit an RBI single off Carlos Marmol in the ninth.

''The tone has been set,'' Desmond said. ''When we came to spring training, we were all itching to get there. When we all showed up early, that set the tone. We've been chomping at the bit to get out there. It was definitely exciting.''

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, and Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the win.

Chicago's bullpen troubles have seemed to follow it into 2012 after starter Ryan Dempster allowed two hits in 7 2-3 innings. Wood walked three of the four batters he faced before Marmol's struggles in the ninth.

''It hurts because we lost today,'' Dempster said. ''We want to win every day we're out there, but especially opening day when you're at home in front of all these great fans. That's what hurt.''

Marlon Byrd drove in the only Cubs' run with a single in the fourth.

Chicago first baseman Bryan LaHair was expected to start opening day, but a back injury kept him out. He said he should be available off the bench Saturday before starting the series finale Sunday.

Tagged: Cubs, Nationals, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Gio Gonzalez

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