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HOU@NYM: Capuano hurls seven innings of one-run ball

At the conclusion of the first series between the Mets and Nationals this year, the Mets walked out of Citi Field disheartened by a four-run Nationals rally in the top of the ninth inning that seemed to sum up all of their misfortunes. Now, the Mets are turning that feeling on its head and using this week's series in Washington to find their team identity, including inching closer to .500.

Having won six in a row, the Mets will turn to Chris Capuano to keep the train moving. Capuano, whose signing with the Mets included plenty of uncertainty, aims to keep his hot hand coming off his best effort of the young 2011 season. The last time the left-hander took the mound, he picked up the victory after firing seven innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts in the Mets' 9-1 win over the Astros on April 21.

It was that start that began the current winning streak, a run that has seen Mets starters earn the win in four of the victories. In all, they are pitching to a 2.16 ERA during their winning streak, their longest since winning eight in a row from June 10-17, 2010. The quality pitching extends beyond the winning streak -- Mets pitchers have accrued a 2.66 ERA over their past nine games and have gone at least six innings in seven of their past nine games.

Capuano hopes to keep that trend going. The southpaw lasted at least six innings in two of three starts, tossing 5 2/3 innings in the other. Capuano surrendered 11 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings in those first two starts before turning things around his last time out.

Countering Capuano will be Livan Hernandez, whom the Nationals will need to rebound from a rather mediocre start. Hernandez went six innings on April 23, but gave up seven runs (four earned) on nine hits and walked four in a loss to the Pirates. The right-hander had allowed just two earned runs in his previous 13 2/3 innings, picking up consecutive wins.

At the very least, Hernandez is a likely candidate to continue the Nationals' streak of their starters going at least five innings. Washington is the only club in baseball to have its starters last at least five innings in every game. The current 23-game streak is the longest such run since Nats pitchers went at least five frames in 28 straight games from May 31-July 1, 2009.

Thursday's start for Hernandez marks the 38th time he will take the ball against the Mets -- the most of any active player.

Mets: Murphy heating up
Daniel Murphy was simply in the competition for the second-base job during Spring Training. However, if Murphy keeps hitting the way he has over the last week, the in-season competition may finally come to an end. Murphy, who went 2-for-2 Wednesday night with a game-tying pinch-hit home run and a two-run double in the ninth, is 10-for-23 with two home runs and seven RBIs since April 20. The second baseman has lifted his average to .315 and boasts an OPS north of .800.

Nationals: Pudge's days in D.C. numbered?
The emergence of Wilson Ramos may ultimately spell the end of Pudge Rodriguez with the Nationals. The 21-year veteran's arrival in Washington prior to 2010 was seen as a boost to the club's young catching depth chart. But with Ramos' development and other clubs' need for catching experience, notably the Red Sox, could the future Hall of Famer's time be up? Rodriguez, who is hitting .194 in 11 games this season, could be sent to Boston if the Red Sox lack confidence in Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Worth noting
Consistent offense has eluded Washington all season. The Nationals are hitting .227 as a team, have scored just 90 runs in 23 games and are hitting under .200 with runners in scoring position as a team over their last seven games. But for the Nationals, the math is simple. If they score three runs or more, they are 10-5. If they do not cross that threshold, they are 0-8.

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