Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer (31) juggles a ball in the dugout during an interleague exhibition baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Friday, April 1, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass
April 12, 2014

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves aren't likely to turn out their fortunes against the Washington Nationals until they get a better collective effort from their starting pitchers.

Washington has won 11 of 12 games between the two N.L. East rivals, including the first three games of the four-game series that concludes Sunday. Since the start of 2015, the Nationals lead the series 25-6.

The Nationals will send lefty Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.28) to the mound on Sunday against Atlanta right-hander Joel De La Cruz (0-6, 3.72).

Atlanta's problem lately has been with the bullpen. After going through a stretch where the bullpen pitched well, the Braves' relievers have been poor on the current homestand. But Atlanta manager Brian Snitker puts much of the blame on the inability of the starting pitchers to go deep in the game, thus making the relievers shoulder a heavier burden.

"It's tough to cover the innings and it effectively," Snitker said. "The key is to get the starts to go deeper and not rely on so many of those guys."

The Atlanta bullpen has changed over the last three weeks. Lefty Dario Alvarez was packaged in a trade to Texas. Lefty Hunter Cervenka was traded to Miami. Chris Withrow and Arodyz Vizcaino were both placed on the disabled list.

"We had a nice bullpen run," Snitker said. "Now we're asking guys to do things they're not capable of doing."

Washington manager Dusty Baker is also concerned with his bullpen. The Nationals' relievers wasted a 5-0 lead on Friday and nearly blew a six-run lead on Saturday.

"I'm concerned," Baker said. "I said that in Colorado. You've got to be aware of the series after Colorado. Max (Scherzer) almost gave us seven innings (on Saturday) and we've got another high-power offense to face coming up in Baltimore. "

Gonzalez had his last start short-circuited by a lengthy rain delay on Aug. 16 against Colorado. Gonzalez allowed two runs in three innings but did not return after the delay.

"That was the worst time you could have one because Gio was throwing the ball good," Washington manager Dusty Baker said.

Gonzalez will be facing the Braves for the second time this season. He received no decision on April 12 when he pitched six scoreless innings. De La Cruz will make his first career start against the Nationals.

The Braves and Nationals have two more series remaining, one in Washington and another in Atlanta.

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