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Preview: Mets (76-61) at Nationals (71-66)

Game: 2
Venue: Nationals Park
Date: September 08, 2015 7:05 PM EDT

With the firestorm over his innings count beginning to subside, both Matt Harvey and the New York Mets can shift their focus back towards making the playoffs.

Harvey has a chance to bring the visiting Mets another step closer to the postseason and put a significant dent in the Washington Nationals’ playoff aspirations when he takes the mound at the site of his last loss Tuesday night.

An already high-profile three-game series between the NL East’s top two teams has received additional attention after Harvey and his agent, Scott Boras, implied that the standout pitcher would be shut down after reaching a 180-inning limit imposed by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the Tommy John procedure that sidelined Harvey for all of 2014. The 2013 All-Star enters Tuesday’s outing at 166 1-3 innings.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Monday that the team plans on Harvey pitching if it reaches the playoffs, though to what extent has yet to be determined.

‘How he’s used in the postseason is really going to be a function of how he’s gotten through the six months of the regular season,’ Alderson said. ‘I can’t sit here and say he’s going to be available throughout the entire playoffs, because we don’t know how he will feel and what all of the considerations are at that time.’

Alderson suggested that Harvey would be held out until New York’s season-ending series with the Nationals from Oct. 2-4 if the division had still not been decided. Harvey also denied speculation that he would skip the postseason in a column he penned for The Players’ Tribune website.

‘There has never been a doubt in my mind: I will pitch in the playoffs. I will be healthy, active and ready to go,’ he wrote.

A different sort of panic may be setting in with Washington (71-66), which fell five games behind New York (76-61) after allowing five unanswered runs in Monday’s 8-5 loss. The Mets hit three homers off Max Scherzer while reaching the Nationals ace for five runs in six innings and halting Washington’s five-game win streak.

“We had some opportunities to score some runs, but the Mets have a shutdown bullpen,” right fielder Bryce Harper told MLB’s official website. ” … We just have to find a way and come back tomorrow.”

The Nationals now draw another tough task against Harvey (12-7, 2.60), who’s 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in seven starts since yielding five runs – two earned – over seven innings of a 7-2 loss July 20 at Nationals Park. The flashy right-hander allowed one run or less in five consecutive outings before surrendering four over 6 1-3 innings in Wednesday’s 9-4 win over Philadelphia.

Harvey has held Washington hitters to a .182 average while compiling an 0.98 ERA in four season meetings, with Harper 0 for 17 with seven strikeouts lifetime against him.

Ryan Zimmerman is 1 for 9 off Harvey this season but batting .435 with six homers and 18 RBIs over an 11-game hitting streak.

Washington counters Harvey with a surging pitcher of its own in Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 3.38), who’s won four straight starts and been superb his past two. After allowing one run over seven innings in a 5-1 home win over Miami on Aug. 29, he limited Atlanta to a run and two hits through six in Thursday’s 15-1 rout at Nationals Park.

Zimmermann was hit hard when he faced the Mets on Aug. 2 at Citi Field, surrendering five runs on homers by Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda in six innings of a 5-2 defeat.

Murphy has hit .339 with four homers in 59 at-bats against Zimmermann, who’s 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA in three 2015 matchups with New York.