Failing to homer for the first time in three games in one of his toughest ballparks to hit, Bryce Harper took exception when the Cincinnati Reds plunked him late in the series opener.
The superstar slugger will look to respond and help the Washington Nationals avoid their first back-to-back losses in a month Saturday at Great American Ball Park.
Harper had homered in two straight games and was hitting .460 with 13 homers over his previous 19 before going 1 for 4 with a strikeout in Friday’s 5-2 loss to the previously struggling Reds (20-27).
Although he has NL bests of 18 home runs and 43 RBIs, the two-time All-Star is 7 for 41 (.171) with one homer in 10 games at Cincinnati. Among NL parks, he’s only posted worse averages at Milwaukee (.120) and San Francisco (.160).
Harper wasn’t happy when Tony Cingrani hit him in the back with his first pitch in the seventh inning, staring at the pitcher while taking his time going down the line. He also had an animated chat with Joey Votto at first base.
”What are you going to do?” Cingrani said. ”He should’ve jogged. Be a baseball player. Sorry I hit you. Run.”
Washington (28-20) hasn’t dropped two straight since a six-game skid from April 22-27, but appears to have a good chance to bounce back with a 22nd victory in 29 games. Probable starter Gio Gonzalez is 2-1 with a 1.06 ERA in five career starts against the Reds, posting 10.59 strikeouts per nine innings and limiting them to a .138 batting average.
The left-hander has gone at least seven innings in four of those meetings and he’ll look to go deep again after the bullpen worked seven innings Friday after Stephen Strasburg left in the second with neck tightness.
After allowing 11 runs over 10 innings in his previous two starts, Gonzalez (4-2, 4.53 ERA) got back on track by giving up one run and striking out seven over 6 1-3 innings in Sunday’s 4-1 home win over Philadelphia.
"I just think he established the low strike," manager Matt Williams told MLB’s official website, "which helps with his breaking ball because it’s a big, sweeping breaker that gets down below the zone and his changeup."
Todd Frazier is 0 for 5 when facing Gonzalez, but he moved closer to Harper’s home run total Friday with a third homer in four games for his 15th overall. Votto, who had a first-inning solo shot, is 3 for 10 with a homer in this matchup.
It’s unclear when Brandon Phillips will return to the lineup after missing the past three starts with a turf toe injury.
The Reds had been outscored 66-29 during a 1-10 stretch before plating five runs for the first time in nine games.
They’ll try to provide more scoring for Raisel Iglesias (1-1, 4.26), who was shaky Sunday while filling in for injured ace Johnny Cueto. The rookie right-hander needed 84 pitches to get through three innings, allowing two runs in a 5-2 loss at Cleveland.
Iglesias faces the Nationals for the first time as Cueto is not yet ready to return due to inflammation in his pitching elbow.
Washington won’t have Jayson Werth for an extended period after learning the outfielder broke his left wrist two weeks ago. Werth was batting .208 with two homers and 12 RBIs when he got hurt May 15.
Ian Desmond is batting .352 over a 13-game hitting streak after going 2 for 5 Friday.