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NYM@STL: Dickey strong over 6 2/3 to earn win No. 18

On Monday night, R.A. Dickey sat in the Mets' dugout at Citi Field and watched the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez beat New York on his way to becoming the Majors' first 19-game winner.

On Tuesday night, Dickey gets his chance to get even.

The knuckleball artist can capture win No. 19 and raise his Cy Young Award stock when he opposes Washington and fellow right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in the second of the teams' three-game series.

Dickey (18-4, 2.64 ERA) already is the first Mets pitcher to win 18 games since 1990, when Frank Viola won 20 and Dwight Gooden 19.

Since some struggles in July, he has allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of eight starts and is 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA over his last four. On Wednesday at St. Louis, he held the Cardinals to two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.

"It was a battle for me," Dickey said afterward. "It was humid, and I didn't have a good feel for [the knuckleball] early on. I'm pleased with the result -- but I've got some work to do."

With Gonzalez's victory on Monday, the National League East-leading Nationals mathematically eliminated the Mets from the division race. But before the game, Washington manager Davey Johnson talked about his club's need to stay focused on the series, even with a trip to second-place Atlanta looming this weekend.

"This is the only game I'm concerned about," Johnson said. "They've got three good pitchers going against us, a couple young guys that have promising futures. They're trying to get something positive going. They'd like nothing more than to beat us.

"We know it's a big series coming up this weekend, but we'll deal with that when it comes up. I think everybody is in a good frame of mind. Everybody is pretty healthy, which I can't say has been the case all year long."

The Nationals will be looking for Zimmermann to build off his last outing, when he held the Cubs to two runs in seven innings, with nine strikeouts. That snapped a four-start winless streak that featured a 7.91 ERA and included a 3 2/3-innings, eight-run performance against the Cardinals.

"I felt I had a pretty good fastball, and we stuck with that most of the night," Zimmerman said after beating Chicago. "The slider wasn't very good, so we went with the curveball. I was able to locate the fastball and go up and in when I wanted to. I bounced the curveball when I needed to. I got a lot of swings and misses tonight."

Nationals: Burnett almost ready for return
Reliever Sean Burnett hasn't pitched in a game since Sept. 2, but he could be back in action as early as Tuesday night. The left-hander said his arm felt better after a short bullpen session on Monday, and he is scheduled to play catch on Tuesday afternoon.

"No pain," Burnett said. "I mean, it's September, so it's not going to be 100 percent. But it's better. There's movement. It was just more typical ball flight that I'm used to seeing, and movement. It probably hadn't been like that in two to three weeks."

Burnett has appeared in a team-high 61 games, posting a 2.49 ERA and holding left-handed batters to a .203 average, but he has given up a run in two straight outings and four of his past seven.

• First baseman Adam LaRoche is batting .405 with two doubles, six home runs and 11 RBIs in 10 September games.

Mets: Collins seeking offensive spark
Mets manager Terry Collins said on Monday that he was, "kind of grasping at straws," in looking for a way to get some more production from his offense, particularly at Citi Field.

New York started the day averaging more than a run less per game at home than on the road, and Collins theorized that earlier batting practice times might be a contributing factor. To combat that, he had his players wait until closer to game time to take their cuts, in an effort to stay fresh.

"Does it make a difference? Probably not," Collins said before his team's 5-1 loss. "We're just taking a shot."

Worth noting
• Zimmermann is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against the Mets this season, while Dickey is 2-1 with a 3.05 mark in three starts against the Nationals.

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