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WSH@PIT: Bedard forced to leave due to back spasms

Erik Bedard is hoping his start Wednesday against the Nationals goes much better -- and lasts much longer -- than his abbreviated start last week against the same club.

Bedard is set to take the mound in the opener of a two-game set at Nationals Park for the first time since leaving his start last Wednesday after just one inning with back spasms.

It was just the latest in a season of tough breaks for the left-hander, who sports a 2-4 record despite not allowing more than two earned runs in any start this season.

The injury came as Bedard was trying to win his third consecutive start on the heels of a season-high 11-strikeout performance. He also set a franchise record during that outing by fanning seven straight hitters at one point.

"It's huge because of what he brings to the table," Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said of Bedard's return. "He's going to go out there and figure out a way to compete and give you at least five, six or seven innings. He's a huge factor in our rotation and on the ballclub. Getting him back is a sigh of relief for me."

Speaking of being a huge factor, the Nationals will counter with Gio Gonzalez, who has similarly stifled opposing hitters since a rough season debut. Gonzalez has allowed just five total runs in his last six starts since conceding four in his first start with his new team.

The southpaw clawed his way through five innings against the Reds his last time out, throwing a season-high 115 pitches in his shortest outing since lasting just 3 2/3 innings in that shaky debut. He was able to limit the Reds to two runs, despite allowing five hits and issuing four walks, while notching his fourth victory in his last five starts.

"My job was to get the big outs, to minimize the damage as much as possible," said Gonzalez, who tallied a season-high nine strikeouts. "It shows a lot from the manager that he believed in me 100 percent, and gave me an opportunity to go out there and showcase what I can do. He didn't pull me out in that situation. He believed in me, and that shows me a lot. I want to go out there and win every game for him."

Pirates: Hurdle trying to ignite offense
Manager Clint Hurdle is still trying to find the right lineup combination to improve his club's sputtering offense.

Entering their series with the Marlins, the Pirates sported a National League-worst .221 average. Hurdle recently moved Neil Walker ahead of Andrew McCutchen, and dropped Alex Presley down in the order, hoping that a more stacked top of the order will jump-start the offense.

"We've just got to find a way to be more consistent on offense," Hurdle said. "We are pitching our backsides off and playing solid defense. It's time for the offense to go out there and make a move forward."

Nationals: Maldonado latest catcher to join Nats
Catcher Carlos Maldonado was called up from Triple-A Syracuse after backstop Sandy Leon became the second Nationals catcher in three days to land on the disabled list.

Leon was placed on the 15-day DL with a high right ankle sprain sustained in a collision at home plate in his Major League debut Monday night. Leon had been called up as a result of starting catcher Wilson Ramos tearing his ACL while tracking down a passed ball Saturday.

"They are from Venezuela, and I played winter ball with Sandy," Maldonado said. "We talk a lot. It's sad what happened to them. I'm excited to get called up, but in the meantime, it's sad, because it was the first time Sandy was here. It was the first game he played [in the big leagues], and I feel bad for him."

Worth noting
• In 44 meetings since the start of the 2006 season, the Pirates and Nationals have split the head-to-head matchup evenly with 22 wins apiece. Both teams are 13-9 at home in that span.

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