Nationals-Orioles Preview

The Washington Nationals may be one of the biggest surprises in

baseball, but Jason Hammel’s rise with the Baltimore Orioles may be

just as stunning.

With their offense scuffling, the Orioles likely will need

another strong effort from the right-hander Friday night when they

face the Nationals in the opener of this three-game Beltway

Series.

Washington (40-27) is the surprise leader in the NL East, as it

tries to eventually reach the playoffs for just the second time in

franchise history and first since 1981 as the Montreal Expos.

While the Nationals’ success has been unexpected, the same could

be said for Hammel (7-2, 2.87 ERA) after he was acquired by

Baltimore (39-30) in a three-player trade with Colorado in the

offseason.

He’s among the AL leaders in ERA and has already matched his win

total from last season.

Hammel had the best performance of his career in Saturday’s 5-0

win at Atlanta. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and

finished with a one-hitter and eight strikeouts in his second

career complete game and first shutout in seven major league

seasons.

“It used to be, for me, too many things were going on,” Hammel

told the team’s official website. “I was worried about the what ifs

and what might happen instead of going hitter to hitter and that’s

what I was able to do. It’s not rocket science.”

Hammel is 4-0 with a 3.99 ERA in six starts against the

Nationals, allowing four runs over 5 1-3 innings of a 6-5 victory

May 19.

He may need to be better than that since the Orioles are hitting

.159 with one homer and 12 runs during a 2-4 stretch. They’re 0 for

17 with runners in scoring position in four games since Hammel’s

last start.

Baltimore batted .130 while being swept in a three-game series

by the New York Mets, losing the finale 4-3 Wednesday after getting

blanked in the first two contests.

“I know our guys are frustrated,” manager Buck Showalter said.

“We’ve beaten some very good pitchers and to get where we want to

go, we’re going to (have to find a way to keep doing that).”

The Orioles will be in for another test against the Nationals

and their major league-leading 3.00 ERA.

Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.92) has been a big part of

Washington’s strong staff but he’s 0-1 in his past four starts. The

right-hander has a 1.62 ERA in five road interleague outings, but

just an 0-2 record to show for it since he’s been backed by an

average of 2.16 runs. That includes a loss in his only visit to

Baltimore on May 22, 2011, when he yielded two runs and four hits

in 6 1-3 innings of a 2-1 defeat.

Zimmermann allowed three runs – two earned – and five hits with

six strikeouts in six innings, while his teammates committed two

errors and provided two runs of support in a 5-3, 14-inning loss to

the New York Yankees on Saturday.

The Nationals are trying to build on Thursday’s 5-2 win over

Tampa Bay, taking two of three from the Rays to improve to 9-6 in

interleague play this season.

Bryce Harper was 4 for 12 with two RBIs against the Orioles in

May, but is 5 for 28 in the past seven games overall.