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STL@WSH: Livan shuts out Cardinals on three hits

The Nationals' big test begins now, take it from Ryan Zimmerman. Eight-game winning streaks become products of momentum. But how do you respond when the streak ends?

Washington will have a chance to find out in Tuesday night's series opener against the Seattle Mariners, always a tough Interleague foe.

"We're growing up a little bit. We still have a relatively young team with guys that are learning to play, including myself," said Zimmerman, whose return from the disabled list has coincided with the Nationals' spree. "It's fun when you go through those things, because those are the things you want to experience. You want to learn what it feels like to go through that, and experience it a lot more. We saw what kind of baseball it takes to win that many in a row, and we can just go from there."

The Nats' longest winning streak since 2005 -- during their maiden season in Washington -- died a stubborn death in Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Orioles. The Nationals found themselves in an early 5-2 deficit, but kept plugging away.

Ultimately, they came up short in their bid to plant a flag on Mount .500, which still remains the goal as the first step to credible contention.

"It's very significant," manager Jim Riggleman said as the Nationals slipped into fourth place in the National League East, a game behind the Mets. "We felt like, we're not going to catch the Phillies tomorrow, we're not going to catch the Braves tomorrow. Let's attack each game and set a goal that maybe we can attain. Let's get to .500, and if we do that, we can set some more goals."

As general manager Mike Rizzo said of the charge to respectability, "There are a lot of games to play, a lot of games to win. We are here to win games."

The Mariners will be in Washington to win more Interleague games. Their 140-113 record entering Sunday was the sixth-best in Interleague Play.

The series opener will feature a somewhat odd pitching matchup between eight-game losers, yet two right-handers who have excelled far beyond their records.

Both Seattle's Doug Fister and Washington's Livan Hernandez have solid ERAs, reflective of the consistency with which they have taken the mound.

Fister's most recent start was a frustrating departure from that consistency: He allowed four runs in the first inning -- of what became a 4-0 loss to the Angels -- then bounced back with six scoreless frames that manager Eric Wedge called his best of the season.

Fister is enthused about what is normally considered the bane of American League clubs playing in NL cities: forcing their pitchers to bat.

Yet Fister is "absolutely" looking forward to it.

"It's been awhile since I've hit," said Fister, who does not have a hit in two big league at-bats. "It's still in my blood to get out there and swing and help contribute if I can. I'm more of a gap to gap contact guy. That's all I'm looking to do. If I can make good contact and put the ball in play, that's what I'm looking to do."

As far as his day job is concerned, Fister is also looking to win for only the second time in nine starts since April.

Mariners: Ichiro still ablaze
Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki on Sunday extended his hitting streak to eight games, tying his season high (also April 22-30). During the streak, he is 16-for-34 (.471) with nine runs scored, four doubles, one triple, one RBI, and four stolen bases.

• Second baseman Dustin Ackley on Sunday hit his first career big league triple and has now hit safely in all three games since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday. He scored his second Major Leage run off Adam Kennedy's two-out RBI single in the sixth inning.

• Seattle outfielders have rallied to hit a combined .295 in the last week to lift their cumulative season average from .218 to .226, significant because no team since 1974 has had an outfield batting average lower than .221.

Nationals: Rodriguez out to break the all-Pudge tie
Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez took Sunday off and will be seeking to break his tie with Carlton (Pudge) Fisk on the all-time RBIs list, at 1,330. That is the fifth most among players with a minimum of 1,000 games at catcher. Yogi Berra leads with 1,430, followed by Ted Simmons (1,389), Johnny Bench (1,376) and Mike Piazza (1,335).

• The Nationals had a weird day in the field on Sunday, tying their season high with four double plays -- and also with three errors.

Worth noting
• Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak leads the team in two-out RBIs with 20 and with seven game-winning RBIs.

• The Interleague series between the Orioles and the Nationals -- the so-called Battle of the Beltways -- lived up to its competitive reputation with the Nats' inability to complete a sweep. Each team has claimed only one series sweep, both at Camden Yards. The Nationals, nee Expos, do not have a home sweep of the O's since June 2-4, 2000, in Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

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