Nationals-Pirates Preview

The Washington Nationals are scuffling at the plate without three of their biggest threats, but they're not worrying.

A four-game set with one of the worst rotations in baseball could be a reason for that.

The Nationals attempt to find some offensive consistency by capitalizing on the Pittsburgh Pirates' issues on the mound in the opener of this series Thursday night.

Washington (24-22) is without Bryce Harper (thumb surgery), Adam LaRoche (strained right quad) and Ryan Zimmerman (broken thumb), and only LaRoche could return this month.

The first baseman got hurt in an 8-0 defeat at Oakland on May 9, which started the Nationals' 5-7 stretch.

They're batting .220 while averaging 3.5 runs in that span, which continued with Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to Cincinnati

"We lost by one run. We're not worried," said Tanner Roark, who took the loss Wednesday and also cited Monday's 4-3, 15-inning defeat to the Reds.

Denard Span, though, has been a rare bright spot at the plate lately. The center fielder is 10 of 20 with three doubles, one homer and four RBIs over the past four games.

Like Roark, Span sees a silver lining.

"'Right now we're banged up, man," said Span, who hit a leadoff homer Wednesday. "It's tough because I still feel like we're playing good baseball, even with our circumstances right now."

Those circumstances may improve against the Pirates (19-26), whose rotation has a 4.60 ERA after compiling a 3.50 mark while reaching the postseason last year.

Pittsburgh's starters haven't inspired much confidence in that changing, putting together a 6.58 ERA over the past five games.

Wandy Rodriguez was the latest to struggle Wednesday, surrendering six runs while being pulled with two outs in the second before the Pirates rallied for a 9-8 win over Baltimore.

Another offensive outburst may be needed with Edinson Volquez (1-4, 4.71 ERA) scheduled to take the mound.

The right-hander is 0-4 with a 6.91 ERA while allowing eight homers over his last five starts. He had a 1.71 ERA and gave up one homer over his first four games - three starts.

All five runs Volquez gave up in 6 1-3 innings came on four homers in Saturday's 7-1 loss to the New York Yankees.

"The balls that they hit were spots you would prefer to stay out of," manager Clint Hurdle told the team's official website. "The command was good and the first-pitch strikes were very efficient. You just got to continue to work. It's a very challenging part for him and for us now."

Volquez is 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA over his last three starts against the Nationals, giving up one homer in each.

Washington will give the ball to Blake Treinen (0-1, 0.77) while Gio Gonzalez is on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

The rookie right-hander's last appearance May 6 was his first career start, and he allowed three unearned runs and seven hits while throwing 72 pitches in five innings of an 8-3 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Though Treinen returned to Triple-A Syracuse after that outing, manager Matt Williams felt his performance against the Dodgers justified a second start.

"It's hard to deny him that opportunity after how he pitched against the Dodgers. It's really hard," Williams told the team's official website. "He was on a limited pitch count. He pitched really well against them. He has been building from there. He has been normal (rest), so he'll be prepared."

Treinen went 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA in six starts for Syracuse.

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