Washington Nationals look to narrow gap on Atlanta Braves


Washington Nationals look to narrow gap on Atlanta Braves Washington Nationals look to narrow gap on Atlanta Braves

WASHINGTON — The suddenly surging Washington Nationals have a chance to make up significant ground on one of the teams they’re chasing in the National League East when they host the Atlanta Braves for four games this week, beginning with Tuesday’s split doubleheader.

Of course, the Braves have a chance to essentially bury the Nationals, who trail the first-place Phillies by six games and Atlanta by 4 1/2.

The Nationals have won eight of 11 games thanks to a stronger offense and stingier starting pitching. Washington starters have a 2.48 ERA (19ER/69 IP) over their last 11 games.

“The backbone of a team is always the starting staff,” Max Scherzer told the Washington Post. “And if we go out there and do our job, it allows everybody else to show their strength.”

Meanwhile, Bryce Harper reversed the Home Run Derby curse. Struggling at the All-Star break, the Home Run Derby champ is batting .367 (18-for-49) with six doubles, three homers, 14 RBIs and 10 walks.

Daniel Murphy has hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games, going 19-for-50 (.380) with three homers, 13 RBIs and seven runs scored. And two-time defending Rookie of the Month Juan Soto is 14-for-40 (.350) with three homers, six RBIs, 11 walks and 14 runs scored over his last 11 games.

“They’re fighting, they’re hitting, they’re pitching. They’re doing everything right,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said of his team after Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Reds. “So, let’s keep it going.”

Atlanta rolls into Washington having won six of its last seven while taking advantage of the Marlins and the Mets.

Ender Inciarte continued his recent surge, going 3-for-4 with a two-run homer in Sunday’s win. Since the break, Inciarte is hitting .340 with four doubles, a homer, six RBIs and five runs scored.

“Ender’s handled the whole year unbelievable,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s staying a pro, just back to being really steady and reliable.”

Atlanta left-hander Max Fried (1-4, 3.51 ERA) will oppose right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-1, 6.86) in the Tuesday afternoon contest and lefty Sean Newcomb (10-5, 3.23) faces righty Scherzer (15-5, 2.33) in the night game.

Rodriguez made his major league debut on June 3 against the Braves, throwing 4 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. He last pitched for Washington on July 9, when he allowed six runs on eight hits in five innings of work against the Pirates.

Fried pitched an inning of relief against the Mets on Aug. 4. His last start came July 28 versus the Dodgers when he gave up a run on two hits in five innings and took the loss. He has never faced the Nationals.

Newcomb, who threw 134 pitches a week ago Sunday when he lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth against the Dodgers, will pitch on an extra three days’ rest.

“He could’ve thrown 160 pitches and been fine, as evidenced to the last hitter,” Snitker told the Journal Constitution. “He got up to 95 (mph), probably had some of his best velocities. He kept attacking the strike zone, making them swing the bat and did a great job.”

Newcomb’s day ended with him apologizing for racist, sexist and homophobic tweets he sent out as a teenager.

He is 1-2 with a 6.46 ERA in three starts versus Washington, the win coming on May 31 of this season, when he allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings.

Scherzer is on a five-game winning streak. Over his last three starts, he has struck out 28 batters while walking four. Last time out, he struck out 10 in six innings of a 10-4 victory over the Reds and added an RBI single.

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