Diamondbacks-Nationals Preview

The Washington Nationals are doing their best to remain positive and loose during a current rough stretch.

Following a lopsided defeat, the Nationals try to bounce back and salvage a split of their four-game home series with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday.

Washington (55-51) led 2-1 after five innings Wednesday, but Arizona scored four in the sixth and three each in the eighth and ninth to hand the host its fifth defeat in the last six contests. The Nationals are 4-9 since taking two of three at home from the same New York Mets team they now trail by two games in the NL East.

''We've got a limited number of games left, and we have to play well if we want to go where we want to go,'' Nationals manager Matt Williams said. ''Can (Wednesday's loss) galvanize? Yeah, we hope so.''

Washington won't panic despite being 3 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot.

''We've just got to keep battling, keep grinding,'' star Bryce Harper said. ''Just got to keep smiling, keep laughing and try to have some fun. We've got a long ways to go.''

Though the bullpen let them down Wednesday, the Nationals have batted .216 and failed to score more than four runs in eight of the last 10 contests.

Harper has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games but has two home runs and four RBIs in his last 17.

Teammate Joe Ross (2-3, 3.00 ERA) is 0-2 in his last three starts but hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of the six since making his major league debut June 6. The right-hander yielded a pair of solo homers in 6 1-3 innings while not factoring in the decision of a 3-2 loss to the Mets on Saturday.

"(He has the) ability to make pitches, (he has good) stuff," teammate Jayson Werth told MLB's official website. "His mound presence, demeanor - he is out there pitching like he has been around a while. I think he has a future in this game."

Washington will need Ross to keep the game close against an Arizona club that's won two of the first three of this series and eight of its last 10 games. Ender Inciarte, A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt - the top three hitters in the order - each had three hits Wednesday for the Diamondbacks (52-54), who have batted .290 while scoring at least six runs five times in the last eight contests.

Hitting a NL-best .339, Goldschmidt broke out Wednesday after going 0 for 15 with nine strikeouts in the previous four games.

Wellington Castillo, meanwhile, is batting .393 with six home runs and nine RBIs in his last eight.

''I don't know how to explain what's going on right now,'' Castillo said. ''Just go there, see the ball, hit the ball, and just try to keep everything simple."

Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 4.95) looks to rebound from his shortest start of the year Saturday when he matched a season high with seven runs allowed, including six on three homers, in 3 1-3 innings of a 9-2 loss to Houston.

"He just didn't have his control and where he wanted to throw the ball,'' Arizona manager Chip Hale said. ''You can't make mistakes.''

The right-hander yielded a three-run homer to Werth and one other run while walking four in 5 2-3 innings, not factoring in the decision of a 9-6 loss to Washington on May 13.

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