The Nationals' Zach Duke and the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong both are in need of solid starts as they get ready to square off in the opener of a three-game series Monday night at AT&T Park.
Duke is getting his first Major League start since since July 10, 2011, for the D-backs. The lefty is filling in for the injured Ross Detwiler, who is not yet on the disabled list but could end up there. That makes Monday's game something of an audition for Duke, who has struggled mightily in a long relief role this season.
The recipient of infrequent work, Duke sports an 8.40 ERA. He has given up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in his only two appearances since April 27.
"I'm not commanding the ball, working behind in the count, and then throwing the ball down the middle," Duke said recently. "That's what it all boils down to."
But manager Davey Johnson hopes a start will help Duke get going, part of the reason he picked him for the assignment over Craig Stammen. Duke has made 168 of his 198 career appearances as a starter, mostly with the Pirates from 2005-10, going 47-74 with a 4.59 ERA.
"I'm sorry about what happened to Ross. I hope it's nothing very serious. I hope he can come back quickly," Duke said after learning of the decision Saturday, when he threw a bullpen session. "At the same time, I have to get out there and give us a chance to win the game and re-prove to the organization and to the guys in this clubhouse that I can pitch and get people out."
Vogelsong has spent the whole season in the rotation but might not stay much longer at his current pace. The right-hander is 1-4 with an 8.06 ERA, managing one quality start in eight tries. Opponents have hit .333 with a .987 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against him.
His last outing, Wednesday at Toronto, lasted only two innings, with Vogelsong giving up eight runs -- three earned -- on six hits. But manager Bruce Bochy puts enough stock in his success the past two seasons that he wants to give Vogelsong more time to work out of his slump. The two met for a one-on-one talk Thursday, with Bochy saying Vogelsong has earned "a longer leash."
Still, Bochy is more worried about Vogelsong than the other members of his scuffling pitching staff.
"The one pitcher you would have a little concern with is Vogelsong, because he's been consistently off track and trying to get there," Bochy said, comparing him to San Francisco's other starters.
"It's been Ryan that's had the toughest go-around from Day 1."
Nationals: Zimmerman heating up
When he went on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain in mid-April, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was hitting .226 with one home run and a .670 OPS. He has been a completely different hitter since returning on May 3.
Zimmerman entered Sunday hitting .320 with an .884 OPS this month, then went 2-for-4 with his second home run in three days. He is 12-for-30 (.400) with 10 RBIs in his past eight games.
• Shortstop Ian Desmond received a planned day off Sunday and will return to the lineup Monday. Outfielder Bryce Harper, who missed his second straight game with a sore left knee, also hopes to be back.
Giants: A break for sizzling Scutaro
Second baseman Marco Scutaro and catcher Buster Posey both are expected back in the lineup Monday after resting Sunday. Bochy wanted to give them a day off after playing three long games to begin their series in Colorado.
Scutaro is riding a 17-game hitting streak, during which he has hit .486 with five doubles, two triples, a home run and six walks. He has notched multiple hits in three consecutive contests and 10 of his past 11.
• Center fielder Angel Pagan left Sunday's game in the fifth inning with the flu.
• The Nationals are 3-4 on their 10-game road trip, while the Giants have dropped three straight and five of six.
• Washington went 5-1 against San Francisco last season, including 2-1 at AT&T Park.
• The Giants' starting rotation posted a 9.82 ERA on the team's just-completed road trip.