Kyle Schwarber’s historic surge this month has helped the Washington Nationals climb back into contention.
Schwarber’s 16th home run in June and 12th in his past 10 games lifted the Nationals to their third consecutive win, a 4-3 decision over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
The Nationals will next look to sweep the Rays in their brief two-game series on Wednesday afternoon. The Nationals are on a 13-3 surge. The Rays have dropped two in a row after a four-game winning streak.
Washington (39-38) moved above the .500 mark for the first time since winning on Opening Day.
“If the pitching can hold up, this could be interesting,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez, whose team is in second place in the National League East, three games behind the first-place New York Mets.
Schwarber joined Albert Belle as the only players since at least 1901 to hit 12 home runs in a 10-game span. He also joined Sammy Sosa (1998) and Barry Bonds (2001) as the only players to hit 16 home runs in an 18-game span.
The latest long ball from the Washington left fielder came on the first pitch of the first inning from Tampa Bay’s Rich Hill.
The Rays left-hander said catcher Mike Zunino caught him tipping his pitches during the first two innings, in which he gave up three home runs.
“I’m glad we caught it,” said Hill, who wound up yielding four runs (all in the first two frames) in six innings. “I was able to go out there and execute for the next few innings and give us a chance. But it sucked putting us in that position early on.”
Washington will send veteran Jon Lester (1-3, 4.99 ERA) to the mound on Wednesday against the Rays, who will have Drew Rasmussen (0-1, 3.48 ERA) open the game with veteran Michael Wacha (1-2, 4.66 ERA) following him.
Lester is coming off his shortest outing of the season on Friday in an 11-2 road loss to the Miami Marlins. He gave up a season-high seven runs on five hits (one home run) and three walks in 2 1/3 innings.
“I wasn’t able to throw strikes, wasn’t able to get ahead in the count,” Lester said after the game.
Lester is 13-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 31 career starts (183 innings) against the Rays. He started at Tampa Bay on June 8 and wound up with a no-decision after giving up one run in 3 2/3 innings.
Rasmussen has pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings, struck out seven and walked two in three outings for the Rays since being acquired in a May trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. He has never pitched against the Nationals.
Wacha was sharp in his most recent start, Thursday against the visiting Boston Red Sox, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Wacha threw five shutout innings, allowed one hit, struck out seven and walked two on 75 pitches in a no-decision. The Rays wound up winning 1-0.
Wacha is 4-2 with a 1.82 ERA in six career starts against the Nationals, recording 42 strikeouts and nine walks in 39 2/3 innings.
The Rays recalled infielder Mike Brosseau from Triple-A Durham on Tuesday after optioning right-hander Louis Head to the minors on Monday. Brosseau grounded out as a pinch hitter Tuesday night and stayed in the game on defense.
Tampa Bay also announced Tuesday that reliever Chaz Roe is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. On the plus side, Chris Archer (tight forearm) is scheduled to throw to batters on Friday. Archer hasn’t pitched since April 10.
“It’s no setback or nothing, just a little bit of a schedule change,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Tuesday’s game.
The Nationals called up right-handed pitcher Ryne Harper from Triple-A Rochester, purchased the contract of left-handed pitcher Kyle Lobstein and designated right-hander Justin Miller for assignment.
Washington also placed right-hander Tanner Rainey on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Monday due to a stress reaction in his right tibia.
–Field Level Media