Nationals look to complete sweep of Braves

WASHINGTON — Washington Nationals starter A.J. Cole will have a pair of tough acts to follow when he tries to help the Nationals complete a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park.

One night after Max Scherzer threw a two-hit shutout, Stephen Strasburg hurled eight scoreless frames in a 4-1 win Tuesday. Strasburg allowed just three hits and struck out eight.

“That’s a rough two days when you have to face those two guys,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.

Now it’s Cole’s turn. He was pounded for 10 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings of a loss last week in his first start of the season in Atlanta.

His stuff wasn’t bad,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told the Washington Post. “His location was the problem.”

The 26-year-old Cole (0-1, 24.55 ERA), Washington’s No. 5 starter, was pushed back two days to keep Scherzer and Strasburg on schedule and his place in the rotation is tenuous.

Veteran Jeremy Hellickson, who signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals in mid-March, is pitching in Florida. He has a May opt-out clause in his contract so the Nationals (6-5) may look to get Hellickson a big-league start in the near future.

Cole is 0-1 with a 19.65 ERA in three career games against Atlanta.

Veteran Brandon McCarthy (2-0, 3.97) will try to salvage the finale for the Braves (6-5).

The 34-year-old yielded three runs on five hits in six innings in his last start, an 8-3 win at Colorado.

“He got going, and he got better as he went,” Snitker told the Denver Post. “His stuff was sharper — his breaking ball was really good — and that was huge for us.”

McCarthy is 0-2 with a 2.05 ERA in three games against the Nationals. Howie Kendrick is 7-for-16 against McCarthy and Matt Adams is 5-for-10.

Martinez made a few changes to his batting order Tuesday night, moving Anthony Rendon from second to the cleanup spot behind Bryce Harper and Trea Turner up to the No. 2 spot. Ryan Zimmerman, hitting .097 before the game, went from fourth to fifth.

“I wanted to get Turner back up at the top today with (Adam) Eaton leading off and then give Zim a little breather,” Martinez said before Eaton was scratched with a left ankle bone bruise and will have an MRI.

The move paid off in the first inning when Zimmerman hit a liner to center that got past a diving Ender Inciarte for a two-run triple, Zimmerman’s first since 2016.

“No big deal,” Zimmerman said of the lineup switch. “I told Davey I’ll hit wherever he wants me to hit. We have so many good hitters in this lineup it doesn’t matter where you hit, you’re going to have RBI opportunities… I could care less where I hit.”

That was enough for Strasburg, who finished the eighth after a two-out visit from Martinez.

“He asked me how I was feeling. I said ‘Good’ and he walked away,” Strasburg said.

Atlanta is 6-0 when they hit a home run, 0-5 when they don’t.

Struggling leadoff man Inciarte went 1-for-4, raising his average to .213.

“He can go 10-for-15…he can throw hits together. That’s the last guy I worry about because I know that at some point in time he’s going to go off,” Snitker said. “He’s hit some balls hard that haven’t fell and that happens. It’s just accentuated early. When this happens in July you don’t think anything of it.”