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Improved Nats ready to face Interleague foes

WASHINGTON -- Interleague Play starts Friday night, with the Nationals facing the Orioles in the Battle of the Beltways at Nationals Park.

This year's series between the two clubs will be different, for both clubs are playing winning baseball and could be in first place in their respective divisions when they meet.

"As far as the Orioles go, both teams are climbing and still getting better," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "In previous years, it was tough to be a Nationals fan and an Orioles fan, so it's nice to see both teams winning, and people in this area rooting for them."

Next month, the Nationals will play two Interleague series at Nationals Park -- one against the Yankees and another vs. the Rays. The Nationals also go on the road to play the Red Sox and Blue Jays, while returning to Camden Yards for a rematch against the Orioles. The Nationals are a combined 30-34 against the five teams since moving to D.C. after the 2004 season.

Last year: The Nationals went 8-7 during Interleague Play last year, but it was overshadowed by that fact that Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Nationals on June 23 over a contract dispute with general manager Mike Rizzo. Three days later, the Nationals named Davey Johnson their new manager. Entering Thursday's action, Johnson is 63-57 since taking over as the field general.

All-time: The Nationals/Expos are 125-137 during Interleague Play. The first year of Interleague Play was clearly their best, going 12-3. The 2010 season was arguably their worst year when playing American League teams, going 5-13. It didn't help that they were swept by the Tigers and White Sox that season.

Players to watch
Michael Morse, LF (.268, 7 HRs, 37 RBIs): He is looking to make his season debut on June 8 against the Red Sox. He hasn't played a Major League game this season because of a torn left lat (shoulder) muscle.
Adam LaRoche, 1B (.259, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs): When he faced the Orioles at Camden Yards last year, LaRoche didn't have any power because of his left shoulder injury. The shoulder is healthy, and he is now Washington's MVP thus far.
Edwin Jackson , RHP ( 43-39, 4.23 ERA): The majority of his career has been spent in the American League, and he will get a chance to face the Rays, a team he played for from 2006 to 2008.
Tyler Clippard, RHP (4-3, 4.21 ERA): Opposing American League hitters have a .356 batting average against the right-hander.

Orioles, May 18-20; June 22-24: This will be the seventh annual Battle of the Beltways, with Washington going 17-19 in those games to date. Both teams are playing over .600 ball. The two clubs split the six-game series in 2011, with the Nationals winning two of those games at Nationals Park.

Red Sox, June 8-10: The last time these two teams met was in 2009, with the Nationals losing two out of the three games. The Red Sox have a new manager in Bobby Valentine, and like the Nats, the team has been ravaged by injuries. For example, Boston is expected to be without Jacoby Ellsbury because of a shoulder injury.

Blue Jays, June 11-13: The Nationals will face home run champ Jose Bautista, who is off to a slow start. During his career, Bautista is hitting .295 with four home runs and 11 RBIs against the Nationals. The last time the Nationals faced the Blue Jays was in 2009, with Washington taking two out of three games.

Yankees, June 15-17: The Bronx Bombers come to Nationals Park, and the last time these two teams faced each other in D.C. was in 2006, with Washington taking two out of three games. Zimmerman is the only Nationals player left from that '06 team.

Rays, June 19-21: The Nationals were a bad team in '09, losing 103 games, and it showed against the Rays, who swept the three-game series in Tampa. A lot has changed since then, as Washington is one of the top teams in the National League.

Washington Nationals, Tyler Clippard, Edwin Jackson, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman