Rays look to get back in sync vs. Nationals

MLB

The Tampa Bay Rays are seeking to get their rhythm back after an off day.

The first-place Rays (30-17) open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals (17-28) Tuesday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Despite a successful season series against division rival Boston — the Rays went 7-3 — Tampa Bay managed only a split of its four-game series to finish last week, including a disappointing 6-3 loss Sunday that saw the rare moment when the bullpen failed to hold a late lead.

Usually reliable reliever Pete Fairbanks (4-3) took both Tampa Bay losses in the series, but manager Kevin Cash said the hard-throwing right-hander and fellow reliever Ryan Thompson were “out of sorts.”

Fairbanks gave up a walk, Rafael Devers’ game-tying double, J.D. Martinez’s RBI groundout and a hit a batter in the five hitters he faced Sunday. Thompson yielded Christian Arroyo’s two-run homer after walking Michael Chavis to open his outing.

“It seemed like everything sped up out there (for Fairbanks) — the stolen base, the four-pitch walk and the breaking ball Devers hit for a double,” said Cash, whose club leads Toronto in the American League East by 3 1/2 games. “Nothing was able to get in rhythm for anybody.”

Tampa Bay exploded for 11 runs and 12 hits in the second game of the series, but the output in the other three games, in which the club went 1-2, were rather pedestrian — the combined offense only matched Friday’s production with 11 runs and just 20 hits in three games.

Brandon Lowe, who hit a tiebreaking solo homer in Saturday night’s 5-4 win, said even though there are only two weeks left in the regular season, now is the time in the schedule that could produce some tough at-bats.

“I think it’s that point of the year when normally some guys start to hit that little slump, but it’s nothing that doesn’t happen every single year,” said Lowe, who has a Rays-leading 12 home runs. “We’re going to get through it and out of it. It’s just something that usually does happen.”

John Curtiss (3-0, 1.53 ERA) will work for the 13th time this season Tuesday, but just his second time as an opener. The right-hander has thrown one scoreless inning of relief, with no-decision, against Washington.

On the health front, right-handed reliever Oliver Drake (biceps) likely will return from the injured list Tuesday. Catcher Mike Zunino (oblique) has been hitting in the cage and working on defense, indicating his return might be close.

The defending World Series champion Nationals won’t have ace Max Scherzer for the series, but 36-year-old Anibal Sanchez will be a good alternative Tuesday — at least against the Rays.

Sanchez (2-4, 6.81) has been mired in a terrible season, but last week he was dazzling and beat the AL East leaders by keeping them swinging at off-speed pitches that dipped through the strike zone in a 5-3 Nationals win — showing the mound work that has kept the right-hander in the majors for 15 years.

Scherzer made history Sunday against the Braves with his 98th career game with double-digit strikeouts. The three-time Cy Young Award winner reached the mark against the Braves in the fifth inning, moving him past Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

“Obviously, it feels better in a win,” said Scherzer. “When you lose, it doesn’t feel as great. It’s a really cool feat to be able to say you passed somebody like Sandy Koufax in anything. The fact that I was able to do that, that’s awesome.”

Scherzer ranks fifth in the category, trailing Nolan Ryan (215), Randy Johnson (212), Roger Clemens (110) and Pedro Martinez (108).

–Field Level Media

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