Blue Jays-Nationals Preview

Jordan Zimmermann has been the Washington Nationals’ most consistent pitcher behind Max Scherzer, giving his club a chance to win virtually every time out.

Washington’s bullpen has not had the same success.

Following Monday’s rainout, Zimmermann and Scherzer will pitch in Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Nationals (28-22) have dropped four of five and were swept in three games by Cincinnati over the weekend. Relievers gave up six runs in two innings in Sunday’s 8-2 loss and allowed 14 over 11 2-3 in the series. The bullpen came in with a 2.98 ERA, the seventh-lowest in baseball.

Washington relievers have recorded 27 1-3 innings over the last eight games.

"They’ve been pushed with the short starts and the spot start. They’ve been pushed a lot on this road trip," manager Matt Williams said.

Bryce Harper returned to the lineup after he was scratched Saturday due to a sore back, going 0 for 2 with two walks. He hit .360 with 13 homers and 28 RBIs in May and was 7 for 13 in his only three games against Toronto in 2012.

Zimmermann (4-2, 3.26 ERA) has logged eight consecutive quality starts and is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last three. Washington lost for the first time in six starts by the right-hander last Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs, though he allowed one run over seven innings in the 3-2 defeat. In the six starts in which Zimmermann hasn’t recorded a victory, he’s received 12 runs of support.

Zimmermann, looking for a 16th straight quality start at Nationals Park, is 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA in nine interleague outings there, winning each of the last four. In his only matchup with Toronto in 2009, he yielded a run over 5 2-3 innings.

Scherzer (6-3, 1.51) has dominated the Blue Jays with a 1.68 ERA and 4-0 record in seven meetings. The right-hander has allowed two runs over his last four overall outings for a 0.62 ERA, tying the best four-start run of his career.

The Blue Jays (23-29) have dropped three of four, though Josh Donaldson enters the series on a tear. The third baseman is 11 for 25 with six homers, two doubles, 11 RBIs and 11 runs over his last six games.

"He’s got that knack, and that’s why he’s an elite player," manager John Gibbons said. "And that’s not easy to do consistently like he’s doing. Thank God we’ve got him."

Toronto has lost 15 of 20 on the road with starters posting a 6.17 ERA. The Nationals have won eight of nine at home.

R.A. Dickey (2-5, 5.77) takes the hill in the opener after posting a 7.92 ERA over his last four games while surrendering seven homers in 25 innings.

Dickey, who is 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA in four road starts, has gone 4-6 with a 3.73 ERA in 15 games against the Nationals, though he hasn’t faced them since September 2012.

Marco Estrada (1-3, 3.89) starts the nightcap for Toronto, which has lost each of his five starts with the right-hander posting a 5.02 ERA.

Estrada is 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA in three starts against Washington, allowing two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 9-2 win with Milwaukee on June 25.

Jose Reyes, who is 10 for 29 in six games since returning from a cracked rib, is 8 for 22 off Zimmermann.

Toronto leads the series 33-28, though Washington has won six of the last seven meetings while limiting the Blue Jays to three runs or fewer in each victory.

Jose Bautista is 9 for 17 with a homer and four doubles against Scherzer, and he’ll play in the outfield for the first time since straining his shoulder April 21.

”He’s ready to go,” Gibbons said. ”It’ll be good to see him back out there.”