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05/09/10 6:48 PM ET

Nats, Mets set for division clash

The surging Mets and the surprise Nationals will be the first to tell you, 2010 has brought a whole new feel to the National League East.

So when they square off beginning Monday for a three-game set in New York, it won't be the same as in recent years. This will be a contest for the No. 2 spot in the standings, on the heels of the front-running Phillies.

Both teams have ridden a strong start to the season from their rotations to an improvement over last season, and Monday's pitchers, the Nats' Luis Atilano and the Mets' John Maine are two important pieces to their respective staffs.

Atilano and Maine have both shown in the early going flashes of dominance, but both right-handers also have key improvements to make down the stretch.

Atilano exhibited flashes of brilliance in his first two starts with Washington, both victories, allowing three runs over 12 innings combined. The young hurler did take a step backward in his last start against the Braves, struggling to control his emotions against the team that traded him following Tommy John surgery in 2006. He allowed six runs in 5 1/3 innings and issued five free passes.

"Maybe I was trying to do too much today because I was thinking about the Braves," Atilano said. "I used to play for them. I don't know. It was a bad day. Things happen."

His counterpart Monday has had the opposite season. Maine struggled mightily in his first few starts of the year, but has turned in two straight quality starts. The numbers tell a similar story: In his last three starts, Maine is 1-0 with a 2.30 ERA.

Maine's fastball continues to show a lower velocity than in years past, hovering around the high-80s, but his stuff proved elusive in his last start against the Reds.

"[Maine's] got deception," Mets catcher Rod Barajas said. "We keep calling fastball after fastball after fastball, and these guys, for some reason, aren't catching up to it."

The evolution process is still continuing with Maine, as he tries to find consistency with his darting and diving fastballs.

Maine said just about as much after his last performance: "It's getting better."

Mets: Injury updates
After aggravating a bone bruise on his left heel Saturday, Luis Castillo was, as expected, out of the lineup Sunday. The injury was described as a pre-existing one, which became worse throughout the game before he was removed after singling in the seventh. He's considered day-to-day. "I've had this for a long time," Castillo said. "Some days I feel good. Some days I feel worse." ... Barajas, who injured his left index finger on a catcher's interference play Friday night and missed Saturday's game as a precaution, returned to the lineup in Sunday's finale and went 0-for-4 on the day.

Nationals: Marquis to start rehab
Veteran righty Jason Marquis, on the 15-day disabled list with bone chips in his elbow, will make his first rehab start Tuesday for Class A Potomac. The plan is to throw 50 to 60 pitches, and if everything goes well, he'll move up to Double-A Harrisburg next Sunday. After an outing of 75 to 80 successful pitches there, Marquis could be ready to rejoin Washington's rotation. .... Manager Jim Riggleman said the Nats need others in the bullpen to pick up for setup man Tyler Clippard (6-0) and closer Matt Capps (13 saves). "We can't keep riding them day after day," Riggleman said. ... On Livan Hernandez (4-1, 1.04 ERA), who delivered another strong outing Sunday, Riggleman said: "He's just been outstanding. He's just been top shelf since Day 1."

Worth noting
Before Sunday's game, the Nats selected the contract of lefty Doug Slaten from Triple-A Syracuse and optioned Matt Chico following his strong start Saturday. Slaten has worked 17 scoreless innings in 11 appearances this season. ...Nationals infielder Adam Kennedy has 10 RBIs in his last 17 starts and sits just three shy of 500 for his career.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.