An offensive slump has the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals nearing their worst skid in 21 months, but they may not need much scoring with Gio Gonzalez facing the Miami Marlins.
The Miami-area native will try to end Washington's four-game slide Sunday by continuing his dominance of the Marlins, who look to extend their longest winning streak since last July.
Since hitting .333 with runners in scoring position and averaging 6.0 runs over a six-game stretch, the Nationals have batted .167 in those situations while scoring 2.0 per contest in their last five. They finished with seven hits and failed to deliver in three spots with runners in scoring position in Saturday's 8-0 defeat.
Danny Espinosa is hitting .182 after going 0 for 3, though Jayson Werth hopes to build on his first two-hit performance after he had batted .152 in his previous nine games back from shoulder surgery.
"We're going through a bad stretch right now that's for sure, but it's going to turn," Werth said. "It always does."
The Nationals (7-11) appear to be handing the ball to the right pitcher as they try to avoid dropping five straight for the first time since a six-game losing streak July 19-24, 2013.
Gonzalez (1-1, 3.45 ERA) has been masterful during a five-start win streak versus Miami, posting a 1.13 ERA with 26 strikeouts and nine walks 32 innings. He's 6-2 with a 1.67 mark in eight starts against the Marlins dating to his time with Oakland.
The left-hander, however, hasn't been as sharp in his first three starts this season. He worked around eight hits and four walks Tuesday against St. Louis, needing 107 pitches to complete six innings in a 2-1, 10-inning victory.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Gonzalez is 1-6 with a 4.35 ERA when he walks four or more and 21-13 with a 3.25 mark when he issues fewer.
Giancarlo Stanton has gone 2 for 10 off Gonzalez since the start of 2013, but he went 3 for 3 with his fifth home run Saturday as the Marlins (7-11) won their fourth in a row for the first time since a six-game run July 24-29.
Adeiny Hechavarria hit a three-run homer and is 9 for 16 with six RBIs over his last four games. Ichiro Suzuki has gone 7 for 19 while hitting safely in each of the past five games while filling in for injured left fielder Christian Yelich.
"The mood changes when you win," said manager Mike Redmond, whose club has bounced back from a 3-11 start. "When you're losing games, nobody is happy about losing. It's all about wins."
After allowing three runs and seven hits over 13 innings in his first two outings, Miami's Dan Haren (1-1, 3.32) gave up four runs and two homers with seven strikeouts in a 7-3 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
The right-hander, who went 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA for the Nationals in 2013, allowed three runs over six innings in a 3-2 road loss May 7 in his only start versus Washington last season, while with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Denard Span could be back in the lineup after getting Saturday off since he's 7 for 18 lifetime versus Haren. Werth has gone 5 for 10 with a home run and double all-time in the matchup.