Rays-Nationals Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated June 18, 2012
The young Washington Nationals always were aware adversity would come along with their current success that has them leading the NL East. The longest-tenured National, though, may be in a drought far worse than he expected. Ryan Zimmerman looks to get back on track while helping Washington end a three-game losing streak in Tuesday night's opener against David Price and the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. The Nationals (38-26) have surprised some by leading the division this late in a season for the first time since 2005, but they struggled against another division leader over the weekend.. Washington fell 4-1 to the New York Yankees on Sunday, resulting in a three-game sweep following a six-game winning streak. "We're young, we're inexperienced, and we're winning," Zimmerman told the team's official website. "So we're learning on the fly." Zimmerman made his major league debut for the 2005 team that held a share of the NL East lead as late as July 25, but Washington finished in last place at 81-81. If he wants to keep the Nats in contention, he'll likely need to start hitting better. He dropped to 4 for 33 over his last eight games after going 1 for 13 against the Yankees, and is hitting .229 on the season. "Anytime you're not getting hits like that something has to change," Zimmerman said. "I've got to keep working hard and doing the things I've done my whole career and it'll turn around.'' He'll look to get back on track against Price (8-4, 3.01 ERA), who seeks to recover from a rough performance of his own. Price's recent solid run came to disastrous end as he allowed seven runs in five innings of a 9-1 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. The left-hander had gone 2-1 with a 1.03 ERA in his previous four starts. Price has never faced the Nationals, though he's kept an eye on fellow former No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper, who is hitting .294 with seven homers since being called up April 28. "I feel like he's handling himself very well," Price told the Rays' official website. "He's doing a great job of composing himself in the big leagues, and he's having some success." The Rays (37-29) hope Price can shut down Harper and the rest of the Nationals lineup as they try to build on Sunday's 3-0 win over Miami. Tampa Bay had lost four of five prior to the victory, and manager Joe Maddon changed things up by not starting Desmond Jennings and moving B.J. Upton to the leadoff spot. Upton responded by homering in his first at-bat after going 1 for 15 in his previous three games. "That's just Joe, man," Upton said. "We know he's going to shuffle the lineup around." It's unclear how Maddon will adjust against a Washington pitching staff that boasts a major league-best 3.00 ERA. "Their pitching staff is outstanding," Maddon said. "We're gonna see really good pitching." Chien-Ming Wang (2-2, 4.67) hopes to prove Maddon correct after allowing two runs in five innings of a 4-2 win over Toronto last Tuesday. The right-hander, though, allowed a career-worst-tying eight runs in one inning - the shortest outing of his career - of a 15-5 loss the last time he faced the Rays on April 13, 2009, while with the Yankees.
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