LEADING OFF: Nats fall to .500, Shohei back in the box

Boston Red Sox second baseman Eduardo Nunez waits for the ball to make the tag on Washington Nationals' Michael Taylor who was out at second base on the steal attempt, during the second inning of an interleague baseball game at Nationals Park Tuesday, July 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A look at what’s happening around the majors Wednesday:

NATIONAL DECLINE

The Nationals could use a spark before the July 4 fireworks go off in D.C. Washington is at risk of falling below .500 for the first time since May 2 as it continues a series against Boston at 11 a.m. EDT. The Red Sox thumped the Nationals 11-4 on Tuesday, giving Washington its fourth straight loss and 16th in 21 games to fall to 42-42. That slide has the preseason NL East favorites chasing the Braves and Phillies in the division. Erick Fedde (1-3, 6.00) tries to stop Washington’s skid against Boston left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (9-3, 4.11).

THE SHO GOES ON

Shohei Ohtani is back from the disabled list, albeit without full use of his electric right arm. The Japanese two-way sensation has been cleared to hit and was in the Angels’ lineup as a designated hitter Tuesday night, but he won’t be pitching anytime soon due to a Grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament suffered more than three weeks ago. Ohtani has received stem cell therapy and a platelet-rich plasma injection on his right elbow, and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to return to the mound this year. For now, Los Angeles welcomes him as a hitter. He entered Tuesday batting .289 with a .907 OPS and six homers in 114 at-bats.

ROTATION RESET

Gerrit Cole (9-2) will pitch on regular rest for the Astros after a slight tweak to their rotation. Lance McCullers Jr. was initially scheduled to start at Texas, but Cole will pitch instead. Justin Verlander (9-4) will follow Thursday at home against the White Sox and McCullers goes Friday. Manager A.J. Hinch said the switch keeps Cole and Verlander pitching every fifth day, and provides extra rest for McCullers (9-3) and Charlie Morton (10-2). The reset rotation means likely All-Star selection Verlander is scheduled for the final game before the break. ”This is always going to be the priority,” said Hinch, the All-Star manager who then won’t have Verlander available to pitch for the AL team on July 17 in Washington D.C.

BAUER POWER

Trevor Bauer tries to carry over an outstanding June when the Indians play at Kansas City. Bauer (7-6, 2.45) was 3-3 with a 2.18 ERA last month, striking out 62 batters in 41 1/3 innings. He gets probably his easiest test of the year against the Royals, who scored a major league-low 58 runs in June – the second-lowest output was Tampa Bay at 87.

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