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PHI@WSH: Haren tosses seven frames of two-run ball

During a season that has seen them hovering around the .500 mark, the Nationals have yet to win six straight games. Thursday afternoon marks only their second chance to do so.

Washington will carry a five-game winning streak into Thursday's series finale against San Francisco at Nationals Park. The preseason favorites in the National League East have turned things around since the Braves came to town and handed them a three-game sweep last week, more or less ending any hopes of a division title.

"I think this game beats you down so bad at times that I feel like we kind of hit rock bottom and were kind of just like, 'Let's just go out there and play, not worry about what's going on, who's winning what games, focus on ourselves,'" Nats reliever Tyler Clippard said after Wednesday's win. "Unfortunately we did lose three to the Braves, but it let us take a step back and be like, 'All right, guys. Let's just play baseball and see what happens.' That's what we're doing right now and it's a little more fun that way. It's been a fun little run these last five games."

Still clinging to a chance at the NL's second Wild Card Spot at 8 1/2 games behind the Reds, the Nats have shown signs of life -- both on the field and in the dugout. On Tuesday, the TV broadcast showed pitcher Gio Gonzalez and outfielder Jayson Werth in a heated argument, something manager Davey Johnson said he didn't mind.

"It just shows you've got a pulse and that you care," he said.

The Nationals will try to carry that into Thursday's contest, when Dan Haren will attempt to lift them to the .500 mark for the first time since July 19.

Haren was 4-9 with a 6.15 ERA over 15 starts before he went on the disabled list with a sore shoulder on June 25. At the time, the veteran right-hander felt he was "a bad start or two away from getting released," but he's been a different pitcher since returning. In his past six starts, he has a 2.43 ERA.

Although Haren said he was fine physically when he went on the DL, mentally he was "pretty messed up." The break helped with that. After Friday's win over the Phillies, Haren also credited an improved splitter, which has helped him tame the home run problem that haunted him early in the season.

"My split has been really good since coming off the DL, but really it's just keeping the ball down," Haren said. "I really focus on that, trying to keep the ball in the ballpark. I mean, the home runs really burned me all year."

The Giants will counter with righty Ryan Vogelsong, who came off the disabled list to deliver a solid start against the Orioles on Saturday. Vogelsong had suffered a fractured right hand against the Nats on May 20, when he was hit by a pitch from Craig Stammen.

Vogelsong went to the DL carrying a 7.19 ERA in nine starts but held Baltimore's high-powered offense to two runs over six innings, finishing with four straight scoreless frames. He gave up six hits, walked three, struck out four and threw 103 pitches.

"We can take his pitch count up a little higher," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's the only thing that's going to be different. I thought he did a nice job his last start, especially after giving up a run the first two innings. He settled down and held a pretty good hitting ballclub from that point on through six innings and gave us a nice quality start. So he's only going to get stronger and stronger and we can extend him a little further, although we took him over 100 pitches his last start."

Giants: In need of Panda
When second baseman Marco Scutaro was scratched from the lineup before Tuesday's game, Joaquin Arias took his spot in the lineup and delivered a career-high four hits. With Scutaro back Wednesday, Bochy thought about playing Arias at third base, but decided to stick with the slumping Pablo Sandoval.

"It was close, but we've got to get Pablo going, though," Bochy said. "He's a big part of this offense. He's probably going through the toughest skids he's gone through. I think he's pretty close, but we'll see tonight."

Before going 3-for-4 with a two-run double Wednesday, Sandoval was 5-for-43 (.116) with no extra-base hits over 12 games this month. Since May 22, he was hitting .209 with one home run and a .279 slugging percentage.

• Scutaro, who was dealing with a stiff back, started feeling better Tuesday night. He went 1-for-5 in his return.

Nationals: Good news on Ramos
Catcher Wilson Ramos left Tuesday's game after tweaking his left hamstring while trying to beat out an infield single. That created a lot of concern, not only because of Ramos' strong play of late, but also because of the two previous stints he served on the disabled list this season with strains of that same muscle.

But the injury turned out not to be so bad as feared initially, as it occurred lower down on the muscle than before and is not considered to be nearly so severe. Ramos, who didn't undergo an MRI, felt better Wednesday and expected to need only one or two days of rest. He said that when he returns, he won't risk injury with any more attempts at an infield hit, although Johnson wasn't so sure.

"That's easy to say, but as soon as he hits one where he thinks he's got an infield hit, he's going to go hard," Johnson said. "That's just human nature."

• Left fielder Bryce Harper was back in the lineup Wednesday, after missing Tuesday's game with the flu. He went 1-for-4.

Worth noting
• The Nationals lead the season series 3-2 going into Thursday's finale.

• The Giants are a season-high 15 games under .500, and their deficit in the NL West is their greatest since they finished the 2007 season 19 games behind the D-backs.

• Vogelsong has never pitched at Nationals Park. Comments