Nationals-Blue Jays Preview
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By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- The Washington Nationals' starting pitching is the best in baseball, and it's been a major reason for their recent hot stretch.
A starter giving the bullpen a break would be a welcome relief for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Washington seeks a fifth consecutive victory Tuesday night against struggling Toronto when the teams continue their series at Rogers Centre.
The NL East-leading Nationals (36-23) got homers from Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel while Bryce Harper went 3 for 4 with an RBI in his return to the starting lineup to help beat the Blue Jays 6-3 in Monday's series opener.
Harper didn't start Sunday's win over Boston because of a sore back but drew a walk and scored the winning run in the ninth inning. He's hitting .355 over his last seven starts.
Edwin Jackson allowed two runs in eight-plus innings, and Washington's starters haven't allowed more than three in a contest while the team has won seven of nine.
"No question about it, everybody is trying to outdo the other guy," said manager Davey Johnson, whose rotation has a major league best 2.93 ERA. "There's some awful good games I'm seeing pitched against some awfully good clubs. It's fun."
Chien-Ming Wang, however, hasn't fared as well in his only two starts this season.
Wang (1-2, 5.11 ERA) has lost them both, allowing two runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 3-1 defeat to the New York Mets on Thursday.
"Obviously, the results were not good for the team and not good for me, so there are a lot of things I need to improve on and make adjustments," Wang told the team's official website. "The biggest thing is, I (was behind on the count). I need to get better."
Wang had a 7.18 ERA in his last five starts against the Blue Jays while pitching for the Yankees, yielding a career high-tying eight runs over 2 2-3 innings in his last visit to Rogers Centre on Aug. 8, 2007.
Toronto, meanwhile, can't afford another similarly brief outing from its starter.
After Ricky Romero allowed four runs in four innings of Sunday's 12-4 win over Atlanta, Brandon Morrow threw only nine pitches before leaving with a strained left oblique Monday. There's a chance Morrow will miss at least a start.
Those outings have taxed the bullpen, which has thrown 21 2-3 innings while the Blue Jays (31-30) have lost four of five.
"I know what it does to your bullpen so I was sympathizing with (manager John Farrell)," Johnson said. "Not a whole lot, but I was sympathizing with him."
Henderson Alvarez has gone at least six innings in 10 of his 12 starts, but he'll take the hill searching for his first victory since beating Minnesota on May 10.
Alvarez (3-5, 3.76) is 0-3 with a 5.58 ERA in his last five starts, though he had a solid outing Thursday when he allowed three runs in seven innings against the White Sox.
"I'm happy with the way I pitched," Alvarez told the team's official website. "I feel like all my pitches were working tonight, the sinker, the slider and the changeup. I was happy with that outing."
Alvarez will seek support from an offense that has sputtered other than Sunday's outburst. Toronto hasn't scored more than three runs in any loss during its slump.
Colby Rasmus homered for the second straight game and is hitting .364 over his last seven.
Updated June 12, 2012