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STL@WSH: Zimmermann throws seven strong frames

Nothing like a trip to Nationals Park to test the mettle of the Padres' pitching staff.

The Padres, whose pitching has kept them afloat in the National League West this season, are 1-4 with a 6.59 ERA the last two seasons on the road against the Nationals.

They'll send left-hander Eric Stults to the mound in the opening game of the four-game series on Thursday night against Washington. Stults is coming off a one-run, six-inning outing in his last start against the Giants.

The Nationals will see two lefties in the first two games of the series: Stults and Robbie Erlin. That gives the Padres a chance to neutralize some of the left-handed bats in the Nationals' order, like Bryce Harper, switch-hitter Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche and Nate McLouth.

Either way, the Padres head to Washington with the hope that their offense comes around and the pitching continues to shine as it has so far in April, during which the team's staff has posted a 2.78 ERA, fourth best in the Major Leagues for the month heading into Wednesday's game.

"These guys are pitching to expectation," said Padres manager Bud Black. "Right now, we're in a nice run of starting pitching."

The Nationals will counter with Jordan Zimmermann, who's looking to throw his third consecutive quality start. In his last outing, Zimmermann allowed one earned run over seven innings while fanning six against the Cardinals. The earned run was scored in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Matt Holliday.

"Zim pitched well. He got in a situation with Holliday in his last inning in which he gave up a base hit," said Nationals manager Matt Williams. "But other than that, he pitched well enough to win."

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound righty is 1-1 on the season with a 3.92 ERA.

Nationals: Clippard refining his approach
After allowing four unearned runs to the Angels in a 4-2 loss on Monday night, Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard indicated that he may be tipping his pitches. But Williams believes Clippard has a problem with his location.

"I looked at every angle. I looked at the pitches that he has thrown, I would say no, I don't think he is tipping pitches," Williams said. "I think he is missing location, and that's getting him in trouble, especially with his fastball. I don't think he is giving it away."

Entering Wednesday's action, Clippard had a respectable 3.72 ERA, and said he doesn't look at ERA. He simply feels he is not doing his job.

"It has not been very successful," Clippard said. "I'm truly worried about winning games. I've been on the mound in a lot of close games this year. I haven't really got the job done like I usually do, like I expect myself to do. So far, it hasn't been good, in my opinion. But there is a long season ahead of me, and I know myself. I'm not too worried about it."

Padres: Waiting on Maybin
Outfielder Cameron Maybin had three hits -- including a home run -- on Tuesday for Triple-A El Paso during his Minor League rehabilitation stint. Maybin is now hitting .235 in 34 at-bats.

Black said earlier in the week that there was a chance that Maybin would be reinstated from the disabled list and join the team on this 10-game road trip.

Black was asked if it was improbable -- given that he's currently on the West Coast -- that Maybin would join the team on the East Coast.

"We're leaning that way," Black said.

The Padres begin a three-game series in San Francisco on Monday, which might be a more logical place and time for Maybin to be reinstated.

Maybin suffered a ruptured left biceps making a diving catch in a Spring Training game on March 2.

Worth noting
• Washington outfielder Scott Hairston, who is on the disabled list because of a left oblique strain, took batting practice for the first time Wednesday and didn't feel any pain. The key is how he feels Thursday.

• Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is on the disabled list with a fractured right thumb, is doing some running on a treadmill. He is also taking modified ground balls, which means he is only catching the ball with his glove.

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