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PIT@CHC: Hammel throws seven strong innings

Jason Hammel will have an opportunity to maintain his perfect record against the Nationals Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs' right-hander is 6-0 with a 3.15 ERA against Washington during his nine-year career. He'll face off against Nationals starter Tanner Roark in the second contest of a four-game set.

Hammel is putting together a career year in his first season in Chicago with a 6-5 record and a 2.99 ERA. His best previous statistical campaign came in 2012 with the Orioles when he posted a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts.

In his last outing, Hammel surrendered two earned on six hits over seven innings, but took the loss in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Pirates. Still, Hammel said he's encouraged by his improved command this season.

"The slider and the heater are coming back," Hammel said Saturday. "So I feel pretty good about it."

Hammel's enhanced performance in 2014 has made him a hot commodity with the Trade Deadline approaching next month.

Meanwhile, Roark has established himself as an important piece of the Nationals' starting rotation. The right-hander has rattled off four straight wins dating back to June 6, and boasts a 2.79 ERA over 93 2/3 innings this season.

Nationals: Ramos doesn't skip a beat in first game back
Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos went 2-for-3 with two singles and a run scored against Cubs Thursday night in his first contest back after missing 14 games because of a strained hamstring.

Ramos has struggled with injuries throughout this season. He was sidelined for 32 games in the beginning of the year after suffering a hamate fracture on Opening Day when he took a foul tip off the hand.

And while his early-season injury was relatively unavoidable, Ramos has pledged to keep his lower body healthier by taking fewer risks on the basepaths.

"When I run home to first, [if it's] an easy out then I don't have to go 100 percent in that situation," Ramos said. "I never run harder than I need to to play. I need to play smart, not necessarily run hard."

Cubs: Renteria trying not to overwork Castillo
Welington Castillo returned to the Cubs' lineup Thursday after getting a one-day breather. Castillo was activated Sunday after a stint on the 15-day disabled list because of a left rib-cage strain, but the Cubs are proceeding with caution to avoid overworking the catcher.

"He's been down for a while," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Castillo, who played two games for Triple-A Iowa before his return on Sunday. "He had back-to-back days [last Friday and Saturday] for the first time before he arrived with us, and then I ended up using him to pinch-hit and he caught an inning. That was one of the things I was trying to stay away from."

Castillo went 1-for-3 with an RBI in Chicago's 5-3 series-opening victory over the Nationals on Thursday.

Worth Noting
• Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper (torn left thumb ligament) went 1-for-3 with a double and walk in his third rehab start, and first for Double-A Harrisburg, in Akron on Thursday.

• Cubs outfielder Junior Lake left Thursday's game against the Nationals after colliding with the metal doors in right-center field at Wrigley Field. The Cubs removed Lake from the game as a precaution. They reported no concussion symptoms for Lake, but bruises on his head and left leg. Comments