The Nationals go west to Oakland and Phoenix

brushback_harperThe Nationals make their first trip west this season. They will face two distinctly different teams. On Friday, they open a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, at 20-15, have one of the best records in baseball. On Monday, they begin a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who at 13-24 are one of the worst teams in baseball and with a myriad of problems already. The following are highlights about the Nationals’ upcoming six-game road trip:

>>> The Nationals-Athletics will be a reunion of sorts for players formerly of the other team. Former Nationals prospect Tommy Milone, part of the Gio Gonzalez deal, is scheduled to start for the Athletics on Friday and oppose Doug Fister. Gonzalez starts on Sunday afternoon. The Nationals and Athletics indirectly swapped Jerry Blevins and Fernando Abad this offseason, and both left-handers are in each team’s respective bullpens. Derek Norris, also part of the Gonzalez trade, has been one of the Athletics two main catchers this season.

>>> When the Nationals play in Oakland, they will have completed the full circuit, playing in every current big league city. The Nationals haven’t played the Athletics since 2005, and this will be their first trip to Oakland.

>>> The Athletics have the seventh-highest scoring offense in baseball (4.74 runs per game) and, despite numerous pitching injuries, have the fourth-best ERA (3.05) in the majors. On Saturday, the Nationals are scheduled to face Athletics’ opening day, Sonny Gray, a 24-year-old right-hander with a 4-1 record and a 1.91 ERA. The Athletics bullpen has the fourth-best ERA (2.68) and eighth-best starters ERA (3.25). The second number is impressive given Oakland lost starters A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, who both recently underwent Tommy John surgery.

>>> Fister makes his Nationals and season debut on Friday. The Nationals have already cleared a spot on the roster for him, sending first baseman-outfielder Tyler Moore back to Class Syracuse after Wednesday’s game. Cavernous O.co Coliseum is an almost perfect situation to ease Fister back into action.

Fister spent his entire career in the American League and has a 3.17 ERA in 12 starts against the Athletics. At O.co Coliseum, Fister has a 2.41 ERA over six starts. He has also faced the Athletics twice in the postseason. His second-to-last start of 2013 was in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Athletics in Detroit, he allowed three runs on seven hits over six innings, and the Tigers won, 8-6.

>>> Matt Williams returns to Arizona for the first time since being hired as Nationals manager this offseason. Williams’ family resides in Scottsdale. He is a former Diamondbacks player, broadcaster, minority owner and, most recently, a coach.

>>> The Diamondbacks have the worst pitching staff in baseball. Their starters have a 5.45 ERA, last in the majors. Their bullpen is middle of the pack, with a 3.80 ERA, 16th best in the majors. Their offense is also among the least productive in baseball, scoring 3.76 runs per game, the sixth lowest mark in baseball. Manager Kirk Gibson and General Manager Kevin Towers have both come under fire for the team’s bad start and performance.

FROM THE POST

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NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 8, Durham 5: Aaron Laffey allowed two runs on three hits and walked six over 6 1/3 innings. Ryan Mattheus allowed two runs on three hits in his first inning back from the Nationals. Destin Hood went 3 for 4, is hitting .357 at Syracuse and has drive in eight runs already. Brian Goodwin and Jeff Howell also drove in two runs.

Binghamton 12, Harrisburg 6: Blake Schwartz allowed five runs and Brian Dupra allowed seven. Michael A. Taylor hit his seventh homer and Rick Hague hit his second. Caleb Ramsey also drove in two runs.

Myrtle Beach 10, Potomac 4: Brett Mooneyham allowed seven runs and walked three over 1 1/3 innings. Wander Suero gave up one run over 5 1/3 innings of relief. Brandon Miller hit his ninth home run. Adrian Sanchez went 3 for 4 with two RBI.

Hagerstown 6, Hickory 2: Jake Johansen allowed one run on three hits and struck out five over 5 1/3 innings. Spencer Kieboom went 4 for 4 with a solo home run. Isaac Ballou went 3 for 4 and is hitting .316. James Yezzo and Wilman Rodriguez each added two hits.

Hagerstown 6, Hickory 4: Kylin Turnbull allowed three runs, two earned, over five innings. Andrew Cooper earned the win. John Wooten went 2 for 4 with three RBI. Wilmer Difo finished 2 for 4.

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