Cardinals-Nationals Preview

Even with Bryce Harper in the lineup, the Washington Nationals have struggled to beat the St. Louis Cardinals of late.

Avoiding an eighth consecutive regular-season loss to the visiting Cardinals might remain tough despite the hobbled Harper’s expected return in Thursday night’s series opener.

Batting .520 (13 for 25) in his last seven games, Harper was scratched from the lineup before Wednesday’s 6-3 win over Miami because of tightness in his left quad. The star outfielder has been dealing with the injury since Friday and also left Monday’s 9-2 victory over the Marlins when he slipped running the bases in the seventh inning.

"I decided to get him out of there, give him a day just to calm it down a little bit," manager Matt Williams said. "I expect him to be in there Thursday."

Harper went 11 for 25 (.440) in his first six regular season games versus St. Louis (9-6), but is hitting .217 (5 for 23) during Washington’s seven-game series slide in which it’s totaled 12 runs.

"Every game’s different in that respect, but we have to play well if we’re going to challenge (the Cardinals) or beat them," Williams told the Nationals’ official website. "If we ever want to get to where we want to get to, it’s through those guys. It’s presented to you every day. What are you going to do with it?"

Harper was 3 for 23 with a homer and eight strikeouts while the Nationals lost to the Cardinals in five games in the 2012 NL division series.

However, he’s 6 for 11 with two doubles during the regular season against scheduled Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright (2-1, 2.57 ERA). The right-hander has a 1.69 ERA while winning three consecutive regular-season starts versus Washington (9-6).

After giving up two runs and eight hits to split his first two starts, Wainwright yielded four runs on seven hits while striking out eight without a walk in Saturday’s 10-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. He lasted seven innings for the third straight outing.

"Instead of being just off the plate, I was just on the plate and usually I’m going to be a little more on the corners," Wainwright told the Cardinals’ official website.

He’ll try to help St. Louis bounce back after its four-game winning streak ended with a 5-1 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Cardinals outscored their previous four opponents 26-9, but even with nine hits they managed only an Allen Craig homer in the sixth in the series finale.

Yadier Molina had two hits and is batting .452 (14 for 31) in his last eight games for St. Louis. Though he’s 4 for 14 in his last four versus Washington, he drove in six runs during that span.

Scheduled Nationals starter Taylor Jordan (0-1, 4.76), making his first appearance against the Cardinals, will try to bounce back after allowing five runs and 10 hits in five innings of a 6-3 loss at Atlanta on Saturday.

Jayson Werth hit a three-run homer off Marlins ace Jose Fernandez on Wednesday to help Washington overcome a 3-0 hole and take two of three in the series.

"We have the ability to come back because guys grind at-bats and never give up," Williams said.

Werth is 5 for 23 with seven strikeouts during the regular season versus Wainwright, but two of those hits were home runs.