Nationals, Braves set for NL East showdown

The streaking Washington Nationals will look to put some distance between themselves and the Braves in the National League East when the two front-running clubs open a four-game series Thursday at SunTrust Park in Atlanta.

The Nationals (32-22) have won six straight games and took over first place by a half-game when they beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-0 on Wednesday. The Braves (32-23) are 4-6 over their last 10 games and dropped a 4-1 decision to the New York Mets on Wednesday night.

“It’ll be fun,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s always tough games when you play that team. They’ll have somebody on the mound that’s good and you know about their offense. It’s going to be tough games.”

The clubs haven’t met since early April. Washington took two of three in Atlanta, but the Braves won two of three games at Nationals Park a week later.

The Nationals will start right-hander Tanner Roark (2-4, 3.17 ERA) against Atlanta left-hander Sean Newcomb (5-1, 2.75).

Roark will be making his 11th start and has pitched six innings in nine of them. He’s given the Nationals seven innings in his last three starts. Roark picked up a win in his last start Saturday when he limited the Marlins to one run over seven innings. It was the eighth start in which he’s allowed three or fewer runs.

Roark beat the Braves — and Newcomb — on April 2, an 8-1 Washington win. He gave up one run on four hits in seven innings. In his career against Atlanta, Roark is 7-3 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 games (14 starts).

Newcomb will try to bounce back from his last start, when he gave up three runs in three innings — his shortest outing of the season — and left after allowing six hits and four walks. He did not receive a decision. Newcomb is 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA in two career starts against Washington.

The Braves will need to deal with Washington right fielder Bryce Harper, who hit his league-leading 18th homer on Wednesday. Harper has homered in three of the last four games and is 4-for-9 in the past two contests after a 3-for-20 stretch in his previous five games.

Harper has been a nemesis for Atlanta since he broke into the league. In 100 career games against the Braves, he’s hitting .282 with 21 homers and 59 RBIs. He has two homers in six games against the Braves this season.

The Nationals said outfielder Adam Eaton is on track to return to the club possibly as soon as June 8, when he is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list. He will begin a rehab stint with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday. Eaton had surgery May 10 to relieve pain in his ankle.

The Nationals must determine how to utilize Eaton in their crowded outfield.

“We haven’t really thought about it yet, just because he’s not back,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “But as it gets closer we’ll start playing around with it a little bit and see what’s best for us.”

The Braves made a roster move Wednesday. They promoted right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich from Triple-A Gwinnett and sent right-hander Matt Wisler back to the Stripers. It will be the third trip to the major league roster for Socolovich.