By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- The NL East-leading Washington Nationals swept a struggling Atlanta Braves team last week before failing to win a game during their most recent series.
The Nationals could have a hard time regrouping Friday night against a Braves club that appears to be back on track - even with Stephen Strasburg on the hill.
Strasburg looks to end his struggles against Atlanta as these division rivals open a three-game set in the nation's capital.
Washington also could see the season debut of Michael Morse, who led the team with 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 2011 but has been sidelined with a strained lat suffered during spring training.
"If he's able to go, I'll throw him right out there," manager Davey Johnson said. "He might connect and hit one hard. He would be a welcome addition."
Johnson's club took all three matchups in Atlanta last weekend but followed with three consecutive defeats at Miami, capping a 5-4 road trip. The Nationals (29-21) scored a combined 22 runs versus the Braves but were limited to seven against the Marlins, going 2 for 19 with runners in scoring position.
"It's definitely tough," starting pitcher Ross Detwiler told MLB's official website after Wednesday's 5-3 loss. "We hit a hot team at the wrong time, but we're still in first place. We have to go out there Friday and say, 'We're still in first place, we're still the team to beat.'"
Washington hasn't dropped four consecutive games since a season-worst five-game slide April 26-May 1.
The Nationals have limited Atlanta to 11 runs during their five-game winning streak in the series. They haven't taken six in a row from the Braves since a seven-game run spanning the 1988 and '89 seasons as the Montreal Expos.
Atlanta (28-24) saw its longest losing streak in more than two years reach eight Monday in an 8-2 defeat to St. Louis before posting back-to-back victories over the defending champions. Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman both went deep and drove in a combined seven runs during Wednesday's 10-7 win.
"We went through a stretch," said Freeman, who had missed the previous four games due to vision problems before receiving a new pair of glasses. "Everybody goes through a stretch in the season. Hopefully that was our longest one. ... It's how you minimize those and we bounced back like a winning team does."
The Braves will look to keep things going against Strasburg (5-1, 2.64 ERA). He's gone 1-2 over three career starts against Atlanta while compiling a 5.28 ERA - his highest against any opponent he's faced more than once.
The hard-throwing right-hander yielded four runs, six hits and a season-high four walks in five innings but earned the win during Saturday's 8-4 victory at Turner Field.
"Sometimes you can't find the strike zone, and I was struggling with it all day," Strasburg said. "I just have to try to let it go and do better next time."
He's had an especially difficult time with Dan Uggla, who's gone 6 for 8 with two homers in their matchups - the most hits by any player against Strasburg.
Atlanta's Mike Minor (2-4, 6.98) will start after giving up four runs - including another homer - over five innings opposite Strasburg last weekend. The left-hander has surrendered an NL-worst 13 long balls and ranks last in the league in ERA.
Minor is 0-3 with a 9.08 ERA over his last seven outings.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, meanwhile, is expected to make his big league debut for the Braves. Known for his defensive ability, the 22-year-old Simmons was called up after Wednesday's win to replace fellow rookie Tyler Pastornicky.
Updated May 31, 2012