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CHC@CIN: Leake hurls seven innings of two-run ball

WASHINGTON -- After his latest rough outing, Nationals right-hander Dan Haren said he was trying to have more fun and less stress, but that his struggles this season have been "eating at me."

"Being a starting pitcher, the toughest days when you don't pitch well are the ones in between, because right now, I just wish I could get back out there, but I have to wait five days," Haren said after Monday's loss to the Cardinals.

Those five days finally have come and gone, and Haren will be back on the mound Saturday afternoon as the Nationals host the Reds in the third of a four-game series. He'll try to follow the lead of Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, who threw gems on Thursday and Friday to get Washington headed in the right direction after a four-game losing streak and a six-game home losing skid.

Cincinnati is due to generate some offense behind Mike Leake after managing one hit apiece in the last two games, the first time that's happened to the franchise since July 5-6, 1900, against the Brooklyn Superbas. The Reds have started their 10-game road trip 0-2 following an 8-2 homestand, and come in 1-7 on the road this season

Haren signed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Nationals this offseason, and is 1-3 with a 7.36 ERA and has no quality starts in four tries. The 11-year-veteran has yet to record an out in the sixth inning, allow fewer than three runs or notch more than five strikeouts. Against the Cardinals, he gave up three runs on six hits in five-plus innings and was frustrated by walking three batters after entering the game with one free pass on the season.

"I want more out of myself than five innings and giving up three runs and [reliever Craig] Stammen bailing me out of that jam [in the sixth]," Haren said. "I've been around for 10 years. I'm used to throwing seven, eight innings. I've thrown 200 innings many times, and going five, you're not going to do that. The positive thing is, health-wise, I feel really good and I've just got to keep believing in myself. I'll take the ball ... and when I step on the mound, I'm going to expect more."

One of Haren's outings came against the Reds. He made his season debut at Great American Ball Park on April 5 and surrendered six runs, including four homers, in four innings.

The next day, Leake made his first start of the year against the Nationals and gave up four runs, including two homers, in six innings. After a tough outing against the Pirates his next time out, Leake has come back with two strong performances. Facing the Phillies and the Cubs at home, the righty pitched 14 total innings, allowing two runs on 11 hits, with two walks and 12 strikeouts.

Manager Dusty Baker said on Friday that Leake (1-0, 3.81 ERA) has succeeded by commanding the strike zone and limiting his walks. Baker pointed out that the 25-year-old Leake was solid last year after a rocky start, posting a 4.03 ERA from May 16 forward.

"This is a very, very, very young man," Baker said. "He's way ahead of the curve."

Reds: Marshall back in the fold
Before Friday's game, left-hander Sean Marshall was activated from the disabled list, where he had been since April 10 with shoulder tendinitis. He did not pitch on Friday.

With Marshall taking the roster spot of Manny Parra, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a left pectoral muscle strain, Cincinnati still has one lefty in its bullpen besides closer Aroldis Chapman. Marshall has thrown one scoreless inning this season and posted a 2.47 ERA over the three previous years.

• Before Friday's shutout, Cincinnati had homered in a season-high six straight games. They haven't homered in seven straight since last Aug. 12-18.

Nationals: Johnson trying to stick with what works
The Nationals finally broke out of an extended offensive slump on Thursday, so on Friday, manager Davey Johnson penciled in the same starting lineup. That meant Steve Lombardozzi once again hit second and played third base instead of rookie Anthony Rendon, who had been at the hot corner since Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain.

Johnson likes Lombardozzi as a table-setter in the lineup, a role he doesn't see for Rendon.

"Nothing against [Rendon's] ability, I'm trying to create a lineup that kind of feeds off itself," Johnson said. "I'm going about it day by day. I don't like to change a winner."

• Left fielder Bryce Harper hit his club-record eighth April home run on Thursday, passing the mark set by Alfonso Soriano in 2006. He needs one more RBI to tie the club record of 17, set by Zimmerman in 2006 and matched by Adam LaRoche last year.

Worth noting
• This is only the second time in Haren's career that he has made more than two consecutive starts without going past five innings. The last time was from Sept. 3, 2003 to Aug. 15, 2004, a span of five starts that was interrupted by a stint in the Minors and some relief appearances for the Cardinals. Haren has averaged more than six innings per start over 290 career starts.

• Leake has a 4.66 ERA in three career starts at Nationals Park.

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