Phillies-Nationals Preview

Despite making a deal to help fill the void left by Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals are still sorely missing one of their best-ever power hitters.

The Nationals haven’t homered since losing Zimmerman, recording the franchise’s longest such drought in 23 years, but hope newcomer Asdrubal Cabrera can keep hitting the ball hard Saturday night against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies.

Cabrera was acquired from Cleveland at Thursday’s trade deadline to play second base with Anthony Rendon having moved to third since Zimmerman strained his hamstring July 22, an injury that could end his season. Rendon also played third when Zimmerman missed 44 games for a broken thumb.

Washington is 34-19 when Zimmerman plays and 24-30 when he doesn’t.

The Nationals have lost six of nine since his latest injury, not homering in any of those games for the club’s longest stretch since Montreal’s nine-game drought in April 1991. The franchise record is 12 during the Expos’ inaugural 1969 season.

"Over the last three or four games we’ve hit balls really hard, right at people," manager Matt Williams said after Washington had seven lineouts in Friday’s 2-1 loss. "… Can’t change the approach just because it’s not happening."

Cabrera lined out in each of the first three at-bats of his debut Friday, but he struck out with two men on in the ninth to record the final out.

"I think he hit the ball perfect, made a nice play, did well," Williams said of the two-time All-Star.

The Nationals (58-49) have dropped two straight to begin this four-game set and could lose a series at home for the first time since May 26-28 against Miami.

Philadelphia (49-61) has lost all five series it has played in the nation’s capital since clinching a three-game set there exactly two years ago Saturday.

Jordan Zimmermann (6-5, 3.17 ERA) had been 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in his previous five starts against the Phillies before facing them July 11, when he left in the fourth inning with a biceps strain after yielding four runs in a 6-2 loss.

That caused him to miss the All-Star game, and after 10 days off between starts, Zimmermann struggled as he gave up four runs and eight hits in five innings while not receiving a decision in a 7-4 win at Colorado.

However, he seemed to be back at full strength Monday in Miami, reaching 94 mph with his fastball and not letting a runner past first base through six innings. He left with a 5-2 lead after seven, but Washington lost 7-6.

"The last (start) was just rust. Tonight, he proved he is back on it," Williams told MLB’s official website.

The Phillies surprisingly made no moves Thursday, but that doesn’t mean A.J. Burnett (6-10, 4.15) is done auditioning for potential suitors. It’s been rumored he’ll eventually pass through waivers to be dealt before that Aug. 31 deadline.

"As soon as I hear (trade) talk, I walk away. I don’t even want to be around that," Burnett said.

The right-hander has alternated good and bad performances over his last four starts, with both defeats coming on the road as he allowed a combined 13 runs and 18 hits in 10 innings. Burnett is 2-5 with a 6.80 ERA in his last eight road games.

He’s 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in his last eight against the Nationals, beating Zimmermann last month as he yielded two runs in 7 2-3 innings.

Cabrera is 6 for 16 with two homers lifetime off Burnett, while Adam LaRoche is 4 for 8 this year with a homer and three doubles.

Domonic Brown is 7 for 14 against Zimmermann but hasn’t started any of the past three games due to illness.