By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- The Washington Nationals would love to keep their momentum going into a pivotal series next week, and a matchup with the New York Mets could help. So could the return of their All-Star shortstop.
With Ian Desmond coming off the disabled list, the Nationals will try to add to their recent dominance of the Mets in Friday night's series opener in the nation's capital.
Washington (73-45) maintained its lead in the NL East - currently four games - by winning eight of 10 on one of its longest road trips of the season. The Nationals wrapped up their trek by taking two of three over West contender San Francisco.
Washington will get three matchups with second-place Atlanta on its six-game homestand, but first it will play three against the Mets (56-62), who have dropped seven of 10 but defeated NL Central-leading Cincinnati 8-4 on Thursday.
The Nationals are 9-3 against New York this season, and Desmond's return might help them continue that success. The shortstop, who has been out since July 21 because of a torn left oblique, was batting .388 with six homers and 17 RBIs in his final 19 games before the injury.
"We haven't really all been together, and we're still missing (catcher) Willy Ramos," manager Davey Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "Getting Desi back, that'll be great."
Desmond is batting .353 over his last 17 games against the Mets, and probable Friday starter Ross Detwiler (6-5, 3.18 ERA) has also been at his best in recent matchups with New York.
The left-hander is 1-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last three starts versus the Mets and has not allowed a run in two starts against them this season, spanning 12 innings. He pitched seven innings July 17 at Nationals Park but did not get a decision in Washington's 5-4 victory.
An illness limited Detwiler to 4 2-3 innings in a 7-4 loss to Arizona on Sunday. He gave up five runs after allowing a total of two over his two previous outings, each lasting seven innings.
"He was really under the weather before he even started the game," Johnson said. "He lost it during the game and you could tell by his mannerisms that he didn't feel right."
Detwiler will be opposed by Johan Santana (6-8, 4.58), who struggled Saturday in his return from the disabled list. The left-hander, who missed nearly a month because of a sprained right ankle, gave up a season-high eight runs over 1 1-3 innings of a 9-3 loss to Atlanta, leaving him 0-4 with a 17.36 ERA over his last four outings.
"I'm just trying to get my command back," Santana said. "It's been a while since I faced batters of this caliber. I just need to continue to make some progress and improve my command."
Santana is 3-6 with a 7.98 ERA in nine starts since recording the Mets' first no-hitter June 1 against St. Louis. He's allowed one run in each of his past two matchups with Washington, but hasn't defeated the Nationals since May 27, 2009. He was on the wrong end of a 4-0 result April 11 at Citi Field.
Washington's Michael Morse, who is riding a 12-game hit streak, has at least one hit in all nine of his games against the Mets this season but is 0 for 8 lifetime versus Santana.
Updated August 17, 2012