WASHINGTON -- Nationals catcher Wil Nieves started for the third straight game on Thursday, prompting people to wonder what's going on with Johnny Estrada, who is a better hitter.

Manager Manny Acta said he was protecting Estrada because he is still recovering from elbow surgery. The skipper said that Estrada will play against the Cubs on Friday.

"Obviously, he is not 100 percent," Acta said. "We are trying to take care of Johnny. Everyone wants to be out there. I appreciate everyone's competitiveness. I'm the first one to win here. I want to win more than anyone, but I have to take care of him. We know what we are doing."

Estrada said the competitiveness is the reason he wants to be out there, but acknowledged the elbow is still sore.

"My arm is bothering me, but I don't think that's the problem," Estrada said. "Judging by the way it has felt, it's going to be sore. I don't anticipate waking up one morning and my arm feels 100 percent."

For the season, Estrada is hitting .208 with two RBIs.