The Washington Times - May 3, 2011, 12:32PM

The Nationals have played 28 games this season but as they open a nine-game, 10-day road trip through three National League East foes tonight in Philadelphia, they’ve essentially got a clean slate. A .500 team through the season’s first month-plus, the Nationals will put the assets that got them to this point — mainly solid pitching — to the test against Philadelpha, Florida and Atlanta.

Sure the Nationals pitchers have been extremely good — the starters rank third in the National League with a 3.38 ERA. The only problem with hanging their hat on that over the next nine games is that the two teams with a better mark are Philadelphia (3.30) and Atlanta (3.21). The staffs as a whole for their opponents this next week or so, including Florida, are three of the top four pitching staffs in the NL so the Nationals will need their pitching to not only continue the work they’ve been doing but also rise to the competition.

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“Five-hundred is nice when you’re not at .500,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said Monday night. “When you’re down there below it, you want to get there. But we know we let some games get away earlier, especially on the road trip. And we let one get away here. I think everybody feels like, even though we haven’t clicked, I think probably the feeling is, you know what? We haven’t really hit yet, so this is probably where we should be. And then there’s some feeling that we’ve pitched so good, maybe we should have done better. But regardless, your record is what you are. It’s clean now. It is what it is. Let’s strap it on tomorrow and win one.”

“April is probably the toughest month to hit,” said Jerry Hairston Jr. “With the weather, getting acclimated to the big league stadium after spring training for six, eight weeks. It’s probably the toughest month and we know that. It’s early but we just want to continue to have good series’. If we have good series’, the wins will take care of itself.”

It starts tonight in Philadelphia where Jayson Werth’s return is sure to be one of the main points of contention for the Philly fans (and they’ll likely be sure to let him know that) and where Ryan Zimmerman officially had surgery to repair the torn rectus muscle in his abdomen. We’ll find out exactly how the surgery went this afternoon but early reports are that he came through it well. Nationals trainer Lee Kuntz said the third baseman would walk one mile the day after surgery and the entire process comes with a six-week rehab. If all went well, Zimmerman is officially on the clock.

But for the Nationals, in the here and now, that doesn’t mean much. They still have to get through the next six weeks without Zimmerman and find a way to raise their .226 batting average as a team without the 2010 Silver Slugger. 

They’ll face Cole Hamels in trying to do that tonight with Livan Hernandez on the mound for the Nationals coming off a masterful eight-inning performance over the New York Mets last Thursday night. Hamels is someone many Nationals’ hitters have hit very well in the past with six home runs and 15 RBI off him collectively.

Here’s how the Nationals have done in the past against Hamels, whom they missed in their three-game set at Nationals Park last month. 

Danny Espinosa: Never faced

Rick Ankiel: 2-for-5 (.400), 1 2B, 1 HR, .400 OBP, 1.200 SLG, 1 K

Jayson Werth: Never faced

Adam LaRoche: 4-for-14 (.333), 1 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, .429 OBP, 1.167 SLG, 4 K

Wilson Ramos: Never faced

Michael Morse: 1-for-9 (.111), 5 K

Ian Desmond: 4-for-11 (.364), 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, .417 OBP, .818 SLG, 3 K

Jerry Hairston Jr.: 2-for-14 (.143), 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .143 OBP, .429 SLG, 1 K

Livan Hernandez: 0-for-1

Others:

Ivan Rodriguez: 3-for-6 (.500), 1 2B, 1 RBI, .500 OBP, .667 SLG

Alex Cora: 1-for-4 (.250), 2 RBI, .250 OBP, 1 K