It's hard for any team to get excited about facing the Nationals, who allowed all of one run in their season-opening sweep of the Marlins. But Reds manager Dusty Baker found a reason.
"At least we're more familiar with the next team," Baker said Thursday before wrapping up baseball's first Interleague Opening Series against the Angels with a 5-4 win.
Yes, Baker is glad to see a fellow National League team this series, even if it's one that won 98 games last year -- one more than the Reds -- and has lived up to the enormous preseason hype through three games this season. Washington should continue to hit well up and down the lineup, play high-level defense at every position and pitch with anybody in the Majors.
But the Reds welcome the challenge they'll face this weekend at Great American Ball Park, starting Friday night, when right-hander Homer Bailey squares off with fellow righty Dan Haren, the newest addition to Washington's star-studded rotation.
Bailey threw a no-hitter last Sept. 28 against the Pirates, allowed just 10 earned runs over his final 48 2/3 regular-season innings and tossed a seven-inning, 10-strikeout gem in his lone postseason start against the Giants. He finished his spring on a high note as well, allowing just one hit over six scoreless innings.
Bailey has made only two career starts against the Nationals and has limited experience against their hitters, so he planned to break down film to get acquainted with their loaded lineup before taking the mound Friday.
"I try not to get too ahead of myself. Obviously, you try to learn from the past," Bailey said. "It's human to look to the future and be prepared for the future, but worry about what you're doing now."
Haren, meanwhile, will make his first start with the Nationals after signing a one-year deal to fill out the back end of their rotation and provide a more veteran presence. Washington also hopes that Haren can rediscover the durable pitcher he was from 2005-11, when he surpassed the 200-inning mark every season.
His Spring Training results, including a 6.39 ERA, weren't encouraging, but Haren said throughout the Grapefruit League season that he felt good and had no doubts he would pitch better once the regular season got going.
"I never put anything on what happens in spring," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I look at where I think their arm strength is, how they handled and came back from each [outing], how they progressed. I liked how he was throwing the ball at the end of spring. I think he liked how he was throwing the ball."
Nationals: Young returns to bolster rotation depth
• The Nationals signed right-hander Chris Young to a Minor League contract on Thursday, nearly two weeks after granting him his unconditional release. Young will be the Nationals' first option if they need an emergency starter, but he will first report to Viera, Fla., to get stretched out before reporting to Triple-A Syracuse.
Young signed a Minor League deal that included an opt-out clause with Washington on Feb. 21. He gave up four earned runs in 16 innings this spring.
"I like him," Johnson said. "He threw the ball well this spring. He pitched really well, [he's] a competitor. He is great insurance."
• The Nationals lost a bit of offensive firepower this offseason when they sent outfielder Michael Morse to Seattle, where he's already hit four homers. But Johnson isn't concerned about his lineup, which is still stocked with power hitters and now features the patient, speedy Denard Span atop the order.
"I think there's plenty of potential long balls in the lineup, but the big thing is a lot of the younger guys are becoming better hitters, and I'd rather have a better hitter than a long ball," Johnson said. "You do more damage when you're a quality hitter, get on base, keep the lineup moving. Denard Span has done that his whole career. We were very successful having Jayson [Werth] do that. He got on base a lot, took a lot of pitches. Denard does the same thing.
"I don't worry about long balls. There's plenty of power in this lineup, and I'm sure it'll be showing up sometime soon when it warms up."
Reds: Marshall sits out first series with shoulder fatigue
• Lefty reliever Sean Marshall wasn't available during the Reds' season-opening series against the Angels, but he expected to be ready for Friday's game.
"Spring Training was so long. I think I peaked a little early," Marshall said Thursday morning. "I was getting a little bit of fatigue in my shoulder. It's just precautionary. They have me doing some therapy and getting it strong again. I'm probably a day or two away. I'll probably be ready by Friday night's game.
"I've made good progress. Guys have stepped up, big time. We've got a very capable bullpen. All of those guys can get any guys out in mostly any inning. They told me they would pick me up while I was down, and hopefully I can pick them up sometime during the season when maybe they're hanging a little bit."
• Left fielder Chris Heisey returned to the lineup Thursday and hit what proved to be the game-winning home run, a two-run shot, a day after getting hit in the face with a thrown ball. Heisey remained in Wednesday's game after being hit in the nose while stealing second base and said he learned to never again look at the catcher while sliding like that.
"What was I doing looking back at the ball while I was sliding?" Heisey said Wednesday. "That's one of the dumbest things I've done in a long time."
• Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games with a first-inning single Thursday. He entered the game hitting .463 (19-for-41) with four doubles, a triple, five homers and nine RBIs during the streak.
• Thursday's win over the Angels was the 20,000th game in Reds franchise history. Only the Braves and Cubs surpassed the 20,000-game mark before Cincinnati, which had the first professional baseball team, founded in 1869, but didn't officially join the Major Leagues until 1882.