Doug Fister returned to the Washington Nationals’ rotation for the first time in a month and pitched terrific for five innings. He also had a single during one of hit at-bats. The problem was that Fister pitched 5 1/3 innings and by the time he was taken out of the game in the top of the sixth he had given up four runs and the lead.
Chris Archer, who is having a terrific season so far, pitched for Tampa Bay. He is leading the AL in strikeouts and started the night with an ERA of 2.00.
The Nationals won a challenge they should have won in the first inning that set up their first scoring opportunity. Denard Span, who drew a walk to start the game, was called out when he tried to steal second. The replay showed he was safe and the Nationals challenged the call of out on the field. Getting Archer into the stretch right from the beginning appeared to be the way to deal with him.
Span was now in scoring position. Yunel Escobar singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Bryce Harper sent the first pitch he saw right back to the pitcher, the ball hitting the mound and then the pitcher’s ankle. Span scored and the Nats took the early lead. Wilson Ramos walked to load the bases. Danny Espinosa hit a ground ball to the right side. Ramos was out at second, but Espinosa was safe at first and another run scored.
Steven Souza Jr. continued to be a pest as he has been during this series with the Nationals. He singled in the top of the second, with Asdrubal Cabrera singling right behind him. Souza took off for third on a full count to Jake Elmore, who singled and Souza scored. The Nats lead had been cut in half.
Michael A. Taylor bunted to lead off the bottom of the second and when he got to first base Elmore in the process of tagging him had the ball drop out of his glove. The Rays challenged the safe call, but the call on the field was not overturned. The Rays were out of challenges for the rest of the game. Fister sacrificed Taylor to second. Span singled to put runners on the corners. Rendon struck out. Escobar blooped a ball to right center which drove in Taylor. Span tried to score from first but was out by a mile at home. The Nationals had their two run advantage back.
There was a brief rain delay (17 minutes) between the top and bottom of the fourth. The grounds crew got the tarp on so quickly that very little work had to be done to get the field ready. The umpires apparently learned their lesson from last night’s rain soaked debacle and let the grounds crew get the field covered quickly.
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Escobar doubled to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Harper struck out and Ramos grounded out to send Escobar to third. Espinosa grounded out to strand Escobar. Not getting that run in would prove to be a problem.
The first batter of the top of the sixth, Joey Butler, hit a home run to make the score 3-2. Evan Longoria singled and suddenly Fister was in trouble and looking tired. Logan Forsythe reached on a ball that Ian Desmond couldn’t handle. The next batter, Souza Jr., hit a ball to Desmond who threw the third to get the lead runner and the first out of the inning. Cabrera sent a single to right field. Harper got to the ball, but when he planted to throw the ball in to the infield his left knee buckled and the throw went sailing across the infield, allowing two runs to score. Harper had to leave the game and was replaced by Clint Robinson.
Blake Treinen came in to replace Fister, who had pitched magnificently until pushed too far in his first start back. The Rays were ahead 4-3 after trailing the entire game. Treinen was dealing with a runner at third he was trying to keep from scoring. Treinen gave up a triple to pinch hitter David DeJesus which allowed Cabrera to score and put another runner on third. Rene Rivera struck out for the second out. Nick Franklin came in to bat for Archer with two outs, who struck out to end the inning. The Nats were now behind by two runs and had to play catch up without Harper in the lineup.
The Nats had a chance to add runs in the bottom of the seventh against Rays reliever Kevin Jepson. Span singled to lead off the inning. Rendon worked the count to 3-1, but then swung at a ball low in the zone (which was ball four) and ground into a double play. Escobar singled. Robinson walked. Ramos ground out to end the Nats threat. The Nats to this point had stranded eight runners.
Jake McGee pitched the bottom of the eighth for the Rays. Espinosa led off with a double on the first pitch he saw. The Nats were in business again. Desmond struck out on three pitches, looking at two of them. Taylor struck out. Tyler Moore came into the game to pinch hit against McGee’s 96 mph fastball not having had an at bat for days. Moore at least made contact but hit the ball to center field for the last out of the inning.
Brad Boxberger, the Rays’ closer, pitched the bottom of the ninth. Span struck out, Rendon struck out and Escobar singled again. Escobar was five for five in the game. It was up to Robinson. He hit the ball right to the first baseman to end the game.
The Nationals had chances in the seventh, eighth and ninth to score runs but could not get the important hit to get the job done.
Next Game: The Nationals start a three game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park. Friday night’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05 pm EST. Joe Ross (1-1, 3.46 ERA) goes for the Nationals, while A.J. Burnett (6-2, 1.89 ERA) pitches for the Pirates. Game will be broadcast on MASN.