The new-look Chicago Cubs rotation isn't off to a good start, but it now gets to turn to an in-form starter that has inherited the No. 1 role.
Jake Arrieta, having flirted with history in his last two starts, takes the mound Sunday against Washington with both clubs looking for a series win in the finale of a three-game set at Nationals Park.
Arrieta (5-1, 1.81 ERA) carried a no-hitter through 7 2-3 innings in Monday's 2-0 win at Boston after throwing six perfect innings June 24 in a win over Cincinnati.
In the latest, he walked one and struck out 10 before being removed after the lone hit and a career-high 120 pitches. The right-hander has won a career-best four straight starts with a 0.94 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28 2-3 innings.
"He's found his routine, he trusts his stuff, he's matured as a pitcher," pitching coach Chris Bosio told MLB's official website. "He's had opportunity. Coming into spring training, he had some physical issues going on with his arm, and we backed him off and started over again. He's an intelligent pitcher with great stuff, works his (butt) off."
It'll take plenty more work to improve against the Nationals. The former Baltimore starter has faced Washington five times - once since joining the Cubs - and has a 0-1 record with a 6.84 ERA.
Bryce Harper is 4 for 6 against him, while Danny Espinosa is 3 for 7 with a home run.
Arrieta's 0.92 ERA in six June starts was second to Clayton Kershaw and his .157 opponent average was the best in baseball.
He'll face Jordan Zimmermann, whose June was nearly as strong with a 1.43 ERA and .192 opponent average in six starts, though he was slightly less fortunate with a 3-2 record.
Zimmermann (6-4, 2.95 ERA) earned the decision in Monday's 7-3 victory over Colorado, holding the Rockies to two runs and seven hits in six innings.
"I'm just locating really well right now," Zimmermann said. "Nothing really has changed, just locating well and the slider's really good. (If) I have those two things working together, I can usually string some pretty good starts together."
Against Chicago, the right-hander has labored to a 1-4 record and 5.59 ERA in six career starts.
Anthony Rizzo is 2 for 5 against him with a home run, while Nate Schierholtz is 5 for 13 with a blast and three doubles. Zimmermann has held Starlin Castro to 3 for 16.
Washington (47-39) evened the series with Saturday's 13-0 victory, giving the Cubs (38-47) a harsh lesson of what life without Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel could be like after both were traded to Oakland late Friday.
Carlos Villanueva took Samardzija's spot and made it through just two innings.
"It's always hard when this time comes around," second baseman Darwin Barney said. "We've dealt with this the last few years."
The Nationals have won six of seven as they try to keep pace with streaking Atlanta at the top of the NL East.
Ryan Zimmerman collected four hits with three RBIs, while Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth each went 3 for 4 with two RBIs. Zimmerman is 10 for 18 over five games and Werth is 9 for 14 with eight RBIs in four. Rendon is batting .389 on a nine-game hitting streak.
The Cubs had won four straight to open an eight-game trip with 23 runs in their last two prior to the loss. Justin Ruggiano is batting .452 over eight games to boost his average 51 points to .279, while Starlin Castro is 10 for 24 over a six-game hit streak.