MLB

Nationals-Mets Preview

For a team one day away from entering August in first place, a weekend visit to the club immediately behind it in the standings might generally be approached with a mindset of wanting to get out of town without losing any ground.

By the Washington Nationals' recent standard in New York, though, they shouldn't be happy with anything short of a sweep.

The NL East's top two teams square off Friday night with the Nationals out to double their three-game lead over the Mets.

The Nationals (54-46) haven't lost a road series with the Mets (52-50) since their first meeting in 2013, going 18-3 since with three shutouts in the last five games.

One of those was started by Gio Gonzalez, who's 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA in nine career road starts against the Mets. The left-hander limited them to six hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings of a 1-0 victory May 2. Gonzalez (8-4, 3.83 ERA) also limited the Mets to two runs and six hits in six innings of a 7-2 home victory July 20.

New York's struggles have been highlighted by Wilmer Flores (1 for 13), Curtis Granderson (3 for 27), Lucas Duda (3 for 17) and Travis d'Arnaud (2 for 11), while Juan Lagares is 10 for 22 with a home run, triple and three doubles.

Gonzalez is up against Matt Harvey, who allowed two runs in seven innings of a 15-2 home win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. Harvey (9-7, 3.16) improved to 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his last four home starts.

The right-hander matched up with Gonzalez on July 20 and was tagged with five runs and five hits in seven innings. Harvey had given up three earned runs in his previous six starts against the Nationals and remains 3-2 with a 1.34 ERA.

Bryce Harper is 0 for 14 with seven strikeouts against Harvey, the only of 49 pitchers he has more than eight at-bats against without a hit.

Some of that pressure could be relieved by Ryan Zimmerman, who's 4 for 14 with a home run off Harvey, and the first baseman homered for the first time in his three games back from the disabled list in Thursday's 1-0 victory in Miami. He's 4 for 11 since coming back, and along with the return of Jayson Werth and the trade for Jonathan Papelbon, Washington has talent new and old joining the mix to contribute.

"Just hitting the ball well and getting good at-bats is the key," Zimmerman told MLB's official website. "I'm not trying to hit home runs or anything like that. I'm just grinding out at-bats and getting my timing back. Everything feels good."

The Mets are hoping for similar production from a returning bat. D'Arnaud is likely to come off the disabled list Friday after missing 33 games with a sprained right elbow, but the club plans to ease the catcher into action.

"He won't be a four-in-a-row guy," manager Terry Collins said. "He might play two and get a day off. We'll see how he feels. The last time we did this, he played in two in a row and the second day, he was really sore at the end of the game."

In Thursday's 8-7 home loss to San Diego, pitching was the problem as New York dropped the last two of a three-game series. The Mets allowed 15 runs in the two defeats, and they led 7-1 after six innings in the latest.

Jeurys Familia tried to protect a two-run lead in the ninth Thursday but allowed a three-run homer with two outs to fall to 0 for 3 in save opportunities since the All-Star break.

''He just has to locate,'' Collins said. ''The pitches he made were over the middle of the plate.''

Since being taxed with 10 1-3 innings of work in an 18-inning game July 19, the bullpen has a 5.59 ERA.

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