Battling with the Birds (April 22 rainout rescheduled)

It’s kind of a shame that the Nationals weren’t able to stay atop the National League East through the end of last night’s action. It would have been fun to have two first-place teams battling it out this weekend in the Battle of the Beltways.

We’ve sure had two last-place teams battling it out in this matchup enough times.

The Nats (23-15) welcome the Orioles (25-14) to town this weekend for a three-game set between two teams off to hot - and surprising - starts. The O’s currently have the best road record in baseball at 13-5 and have won seven straight games away from Camden Yards.

“I’ve been following, watching them on TV,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said. “I know what kind of lineup they’ve got, and their lineup’s pretty potent. They’ve got some great young pitchers.”

Lately, Johnson’s been reading about Orioles stud prospect Dylan Bundy, the Birds’ top pick in the 2011 draft, who’s tearing it up right now at low Single-A Delmarva. Bundy has yet to allow an earned run in 25 innings, has given up just four hits and struck out 36.

“I’m trying to keep up with him in case they throw him on us by surprise,” Johnson joked.

Asked whether these games hold more significance with him than any other contest, especially considering his personal history with the Orioles, Johnson paused briefly.

“It’s where I broke in, it’s where my kids were born,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been a Baltimore Orioles fan. I got to manage there. But other than that and having a bunch of friends there, this game isn’t any more important than the rest of them.”

We should have three pretty good pitching matchups during this series, with Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg taking the hill for the Nationals, and Jake Arrieta (2-4), Jason Hammel (4-1) and Wei-Yin Chen (4-0) scheduled to go for the O’s.

I’ll admit, with both teams playing strong baseball, I’m excited to see what this weekend holds. The Nats’ skipper is, as well.

“It’s a great little rivalry,” Johnson said. “It never was much of a rivalry because the Orioles used to do a little whopping up on people over here. But right now, I think we’re evenly matched ballclubs, pretty good young clubs. So I’m excited about it, and hopefully the fans around will be excited about it.

“I hope I don’t hear, during the national anthem, the ‘Ohs!’ too loud. But I’m sure I probably will.”

Update: The Nats announced that their April 22 rainout with the Marlins has been rescheduled as part of a single-admission doubleheader on Friday, Aug. 3.

The first game will begin at 4:05 p.m. with the second game following at 7:05 p.m. or later, depending on when the first game is completed.

All tickets for the postponed April 22 game can be exchanged at the Nationals Park box office for seats of equal or lesser value for the Aug. 3 doubleheader or any remaining regular or value home game during the 2012 regular season. All tickets for the Aug. 3 game will be valid for both games of the doubleheader.

Also, for those who have asked about the Ryan Zimmerman kids jersey giveaway, that has been rescheduled for the Nationals-Braves game on Sunday, June 3. The first 10,000 fans ages 12 and under to enter the center field gates for the 1:35 p.m. game will receive a Zimmerman kids jersey presented by MASN.

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