Nationals-Padres Preview

The Washington Nationals are bringing their impressive ERA and

penchant for winning close games to the West Coast.

They’ll send Gio Gonzalez to the mound in the opener of a

three-game set against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

Washington (12-4) will play its first six games against NL West

opponents on this trip, moving on to face the Dodgers on Friday.

The Nationals should be well rested following two days off after

Sunday’s finale of an 11-game homestand was rained out against

Miami.

With an ERA of 2.34 and a 6-2 mark in one-run games, the

Nationals believe they can contend for the East crown.

“It really validates we are a pretty good team,” said first

baseman Adam LaRoche, who has a club-high 13 RBIs. “Not just all

the talk, not just guys in spring training thinking we’re a pretty

good team. Now it’s starting to be like reality. This team is

legit. It rubs off on everybody.”

The homestand featured five one-run victories, with three going

extra innings for one of baseball’s biggest surprises in the early

going.

“These two weeks, we had a lot of close games,” manager Davey

Johnson said. “Extra innings, a bunch of one-run games. When the

fire is hot, it makes the metal harder.”

Gonzalez (1-0, 2.04 ERA), one of the club’s major offseason

acquisitions, enters with a 14-inning scoreless streak. He yielded

two hits and struck out eight over seven last Tuesday to earn his

first victory with the Nationals, 1-0 over Houston.

He’s never faced San Diego (5-12), which is 1-6 when opponents

use left-handed starters. Jason Bartlett (4 for 6 with three walks)

and Orlando Hudson (0 for 2) are the only healthy Padres who have

faced him.

San Diego’s .214 average is the NL’s second-worst mark. The

Padres, however, took advantage of another offensively-challenged

team to split four games at home with Philadelphia coming into this

series.

After getting outscored 6-1 in losing the first two games, San

Diego outscored Philadelphia 11-2 to take the last two. Nick

Hundley continued to break out of an early slump with a homer and

four RBIs in a 6-1 victory Sunday.

Hundley has gone 10 for 26 over his last seven games after

starting 0 for 21.

“I don’t think my swing ever left, I think my approach and my

mental state was terrible early on,” he said. “I think my swing was

OK, I just had to keep battling.”

If Hundley is behind the plate Tuesday, it will mark the second

straight time that he’ll catch Clayton Richard (1-1, 5.89) after

John Baker caught Richard’s first two starts.

Richard has yielded 12 earned runs over his last two outings

after giving up none over seven innings of his season debut April

8. He allowed eight runs in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-4 defeat at

Colorado on Wednesday.

The left-hander has gone 1-2 with a 3.48 ERA in five career

starts against Washington.

The Nationals won the 2011 season series 4-3.