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Cubs beat Nats in opener of marquee matchup of MLB’s top teams

Ben Zobrist hits a homer from the right side Thursday against the Nationals after hitting one from the left side Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

If these are the top two teams in baseball, as their records suggest, the Cubs made their biggest statement yet of the young season with a 5-2 victory over the Washington Nationals in the opener of a four-game series at Wrigley.

“We played good ball tonight, and they got a taste of it,” said Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist, who drove in the Cubs’ first four runs – including two in the eighth on his second homer in as many games. “Hopefully, we can continue to do that, but we’ve got three more games against them.”

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks (2-2) pitched six scoreless innings in his first start in nine days after rainouts and a rotation shuffle pushed him back.

“Outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said.

The matchup played out as advertised until the last six outs, before the Cubs scored three off Felipe Rivero in the eighth, followed by Jayson Werth’s two-out, two-run homer off Travis Wood in the ninth.

“It’s good to say you match up,” Maddon said. “But my term is I like to see what it feels like against a team that’s playing well. What’s their attitude? How are they playing? How do they go after it? We got a feel for the Cardinals; we got a feel for the Pirates, and now we’re getting a feel for the Nationals.”

As he asks, he goes

Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler was ejected for the first time in his career after he said he asked umpire Vic Carapazzo what his strike zone was following a called third strike in the third inning – his second strikeout looking in the game.

“He threw me out for asking a question,” Fowler said. “Never answered my question either.”

Fowler said he was respectful when he asked Carapazzo if the called strike indicated the top of the ump’s strike zone – and, if so, where he should expect the rest of the zone to be during the rest of the game.

“He walked away,” Fowler said. “I said, `You’re not going to answer me?’ He said, `That’s enough.’ “

And Fowler got tossed at that point, bringing an angry Maddon from the dugout.

“I was arguing that we are a team that does not expand our strike zone,” Maddon said. “That was my argument.”

Heyward sighting

Fowler’s ejection led to the return a day early for Jason Heyward, who was out of the lineup for a fourth straight game because of a sore wrist.

Heyward took batting practice Thursday afternoon and reported feeling well enough to play, but Maddon said he planned to check back Friday morning before putting him back in the lineup.

He’s expected to start Friday, barring setback.

Heyward was hitless in both at-bats Thursday, extending his hitless skid to 0-for-19.

Notes: Reliever Neil Ramirez was placed on the bereavement list, which means a minimum of three days missed (maximum seven), because of a death in the family. …Right-hander Spencer Patton was recalled from AAA Iowa to take his place. Patton, who spent parts of the last two seasons with the Texas Rangers, pitched 10 scoreless innings at Iowa, with 17 strikeouts. … The Cubs are 33-17 in Hendricks’ first 50 career starts. The last Cubs pitcher to enjoy as many team wins in his first 50 was Hank Borowy in 1945-47. … The Cubs’ run differential is plus-96 through 27 games – more than double MLB’s No. 2 team in that category (the Nationals, plus-47).