After their NL Central lead dwindled in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Brewers knew it would be paramount to get the second half started on a positive note.
The Washington Nationals opened theirs in negative fashion, and now find themselves again trailing Atlanta in the NL East.
Milwaukee seeks a third straight win as it sends Matt Garza to the mound to face Washington on Saturday night in the nation’s capital.
The Brewers (54-43) led St. Louis by 6 1/2 games June 28, then proceeded to drop 11 of 13 and went into the break leading the Cardinals by one and Cincinnati by 1 1/2.
Milwaukee wasted little time getting back on track following the layoff Friday, as the second batter of the game, Scooter Gennett, hit a solo homer and Khris Davis hit one in the second inning of a 4-2 win over the Nationals.
Aramis Ramirez added a two-run single in the third for the Brewers, who had Jean Segura back in the lineup a week after he left to be with his family following the sudden passing of his 9-month-old son.
Segura went 1 for 4, and manager Ron Roenicke said before the series opener that he wasn’t sure how often the shortstop would play in the coming days.
”I don’t know if this will be an on-again, off-again thing with him," Roenicke said. "Some days he may not be there to play."
Garza (6-6, 3.69 ERA) certainly has been on lately, going 4-2 with a 2.35 ERA over his last eight outings after a frustrating start to the season.
He brought his ERA below 4.00 for the first time since mid-April with a two-hitter to beat Cincinnati 1-0 on July 5 before giving up two runs in 7 2-3 innings of a 9-1 loss to Philadelphia on July 10.
The right-hander had a no-hitter through six against the Phillies before they broke out for seven runs in the eighth.
”It happens, man. My job is to not get guys on base," Garza said. ”But it is what it is. You turn the page.”
Garza gave up three runs and struck out seven in seven innings against Washington on June 23, but he was outdueled by Gio Gonzalez in a 3-0 loss.
Gonzalez was slated to start this contest, but he missed the Nationals’ workout and his bullpen session Thursday after one of his flights back to Washington was canceled. He’ll instead pitch Sunday, while Tanner Roark gets the ball Saturday.
Roark (8-6, 3.01) is shining in his first full season as a starter, allowing two earned runs or fewer in 12 of 18 starts. He allowed one run and four hits in seven innings of Sunday’s 10-3 win at Philadelphia.
"I’m pitching with confidence," Roark said. "That helped me get out of a jam a couple of times."
The right-hander will get his first look at Milwaukee while trying to help the Nationals (51-43) win for the third time in four tries. They dipped to second place with Friday’s loss and the Braves’ win over Philadelphia.
Washington, which won 10 of 14 prior to the break, went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. Bryce Harper went 3 for 4 and hit a solo homer in the ninth after going 3 for 29 in his last nine games before the break.
"It’s a question of us not taking advantage of the opportunities," manager Matt Williams said. "But, that’s why we play tomorrow."