The Washington Times - May 19, 2013, 08:59PM

SAN DIEGO — When the Washington Nationals packed up and left D.C. a week ago, they knew their 10-game road swing through California would be a difficult test for their young season. The toughest spot appeared to be at the end, in San Francisco, where the reigning World Series champions would be waiting.

As the Nationals departed San Diego late Sunday evening, they were 3-4 through the first week of their trip. As they’ve muddled their way through injuries and inconsistency, they will take a 23-21 record into the series.


And the Giants? They’re 24-20 — and limping home from a 1-5 road trip through Toronto and Colorado.

What once looked to be a possible matchup of National League superpowers has become a crucial series for both teams — on who can avoid a further downward spiral.

The Nationals are not where they expected to be, even if they’re not dwelling in any cellars.

“Everybody’s probably thinking (when are we going to hit our stride)?” said center fielder Denard Span. “I can personally say that. I don’t think I’ve really gotten going. I think a lot of guys in this clubhouse think the same thing, both on the mound and at the plate. We’ve just got to keep working. Come everyday with that attitude. We’ll keep making strides forward.

“I don’t think it’s about changing anything. Just coming with the mentality of working. Baseball’s a funny game. We all know that. It’s just going to be something when we all come to the field and something clicks. A lot of times that’s what gets you out of a slump… A pitcher might throw you a pitch that fools you but something clicks with your timing and all of a sudden, you’re on. I think we’re just hoping that something clicks for all of us, to get us on track. Not that we’re off track, but to where we know we’re capable of being.”

The Giants had some eerily similar quotes come out of their clubhouse on Sunday, after they were swept by the Rockies.

“It’s May right now. Considering how difficult it’s been for us lately, it’s not as bad as it could be, record-wise,” Barry Zito told reporters (courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle). “Sometimes all the boys go into a slump together. That’s the way it’s been for us. If we can disperse those slumps around, they don’t get noticed as much.” 

The good news for the Nationals: they’re hoping to get healthier. 

Bryce Harper could return to the lineup on Monday after missing the past two games with swelling and pain in his left knee, collateral damage from his collision with the wall at Dodger Stadium last Monday. Shortstop Ian Desmond, who got his first planned day off of the season on Sunday, will return to the lineup as well.

Jayson Werth (right hamstring) is hoping he’ll be ready by the time the Nationals return home on Friday.

And Ross Detwiler, who will miss Monday’s start against the Giants with a slight right oblique strain, has reported feeling improved each day since the issue came to light on Wednesday. The Nationals are keeping their fingers crossed that, with an off-day Thursday, they can delay the next time they’d need him until May 28 and allow him the proper time to heal without requiring a disabled list stint. 

The Nationals will pitch Zach Duke on Monday, followed by Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez against Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. 

In a matchup of two possible powers navigating their way through inconsistency early this season, it’s an important series for both. 

“We’ll survive (this),” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Sunday. “We’ve got some good guys. We’ll survive this thing.”