Nationals-Blue Jays Preview

The Washington Nationals’ starting pitching is the best in

baseball, and it’s been a major reason for their recent hot

stretch.

A starter giving the bullpen a break would be a welcome relief

for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Washington seeks a fifth consecutive victory Tuesday night

against struggling Toronto when the teams continue their series at

Rogers Centre.

The NL East-leading Nationals (36-23) got homers from Adam

LaRoche and Rick Ankiel while Bryce Harper went 3 for 4 with an RBI

in his return to the starting lineup to help beat the Blue Jays 6-3

in Monday’s series opener.

Harper didn’t start Sunday’s win over Boston because of a sore

back but drew a walk and scored the winning run in the ninth

inning. He’s hitting .355 over his last seven starts.

Edwin Jackson allowed two runs in eight-plus innings, and

Washington’s starters haven’t allowed more than three in a contest

while the team has won seven of nine.

“No question about it, everybody is trying to outdo the other

guy,” said manager Davey Johnson, whose rotation has a major

league best 2.93 ERA. “There’s some awful good games I’m seeing

pitched against some awfully good clubs. It’s fun.”

Chien-Ming Wang, however, hasn’t fared as well in his only two

starts this season.

Wang (1-2, 5.11 ERA) has lost them both, allowing two runs in 5

1-3 innings of a 3-1 defeat to the New York Mets on Thursday.

“Obviously, the results were not good for the team and not good

for me, so there are a lot of things I need to improve on and make

adjustments,” Wang told the team’s official website. “The biggest

thing is, I (was behind on the count). I need to get better.”

Wang had a 7.18 ERA in his last five starts against the Blue

Jays while pitching for the Yankees, yielding a career high-tying

eight runs over 2 2-3 innings in his last visit to Rogers Centre on

Aug. 8, 2007.

Toronto, meanwhile, can’t afford another similarly brief outing

from its starter.

After Ricky Romero allowed four runs in four innings of Sunday’s

12-4 win over Atlanta, Brandon Morrow threw only nine pitches

before leaving with a strained left oblique Monday. There’s a

chance Morrow will miss at least a start.

Those outings have taxed the bullpen, which has thrown 21 2-3

innings while the Blue Jays (31-30) have lost four of five.

“I know what it does to your bullpen so I was sympathizing with

(manager John Farrell),” Johnson said. “Not a whole lot, but I was

sympathizing with him.”

Henderson Alvarez has gone at least six innings in 10 of his 12

starts, but he’ll take the hill searching for his first victory

since beating Minnesota on May 10.

Alvarez (3-5, 3.76) is 0-3 with a 5.58 ERA in his last five

starts, though he had a solid outing Thursday when he allowed three

runs in seven innings against the White Sox.

“I’m happy with the way I pitched,” Alvarez told the team’s

official website. “I feel like all my pitches were working tonight,

the sinker, the slider and the changeup. I was happy with that

outing.”

Alvarez will seek support from an offense that has sputtered

other than Sunday’s outburst. Toronto hasn’t scored more than three

runs in any loss during its slump.

Colby Rasmus homered for the second straight game and is hitting

.364 over his last seven.