The last-place Washington Nationals haven’t had much to hang their hats on through 40 games this shortened season, but they can do something Tuesday that only two teams have done all season.
Win a series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Nationals (15-25) used the strong right arm of Max Scherzer in Monday’s 6-1 win over the Rays (28-14) in the opening game of their two-game series in America’s capital, where the finale takes place Tuesday at Nationals Park.
Tampa Bay hasn’t lost any of its past 10 series — winning eight and splitting two — dating to a three-game sweep by the Orioles in Baltimore from July 31 to Aug. 2. Two days before that, the Rays dropped a two-game series in Atlanta to the Braves.
Before his club’s first meeting with Tampa Bay, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said the Rays held the American League’s best record for a reason.
“I’ve seen lately they can come back and score a lot of runs late in games, so we’ve got to be very aware of that — that they’re not going to quit,” said Martinez, a former Tampa Bay bench coach under then-manager Joe Maddon.
Martinez witnessed the dogged persistence of the Rays in the ninth as they filled the bases against reliever Will Harris, but closer Daniel Hudson struck out hot-hitting Randy Arozarena swinging on a sweeping slider out of the zone for the series-opening win.
Martinez’s secret was simple — his three-time Cy Young winner who started the game.
Scherzer masterfully worked seven shutout innings — avoiding trouble in the first two innings — and gave up six hits and struck out eight to improve to 4-2 and lower his ERA to 3.40.
“That’s the Max we know right there,” Martinez said after the Nationals improved to just 6-22 against right-handed starting pitching.
Added Rays manager Kevin Cash, “Once he settles in, he gets really, really tough. There’s a reason why he’s going to the Hall of Fame whenever he decides to not pitch anymore.”
Anibal Sanchez (1-4, 6.48 ERA) will be tasked with backing up Scherzer’s outstanding outing. The right-hander was hit hard in his last two starts in Boston and Philadelphia, giving up 16 hits and nine runs (six earned) in just 8 1/3 innings.
Sanchez, 36, is 3-4 with a 5.61 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts) against the Rays during his 15-year career.
Tampa Bay’s Ryan Yarbrough (0-2, 3.65) will come off the injured list Tuesday after missing just one start following an injury on Aug. 28 in Miami. He walked off the mound in the seventh inning because of left-groin tightness after pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Marlins.
But the left-hander, who has no record and a 6.75 ERA in one relief appearance against Washington, threw an aggressive bullpen Friday and is ready to pitch, adding that he doesn’t expect any limitations because he is well rested.
Batting .471, Arozarena remains the hottest hitter for Tampa Bay, though he has had to do it off the bench in two of the team’s last three games.
He went 2-for-2 Saturday night in a 7-3 loss and topped that Sunday with a 3-for-4 afternoon with two homers in a start. The outfielder pinch hit again Monday and went 1-for-2, with his third home run in two days.
–Field Level Media