Nationals visit Yankees for two-game series

NEW YORK — Nearly a month ago before the Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees, Bryce Harper was given the bait in the form of questions about him leaving Washington for New York when he hits free agency after this season.

He did not bite and likely will do the same if presented with a similar line of questioning this week at Yankee Stadium.

Harper and the Nationals head to New York on Tuesday for a brief two-game interleague series.

“I’m a National now,” Harper told reporters May 15 when discussing his future. “We’re going into the series trying to win some ballgames. That’s the only thing on my mind. Just trying to beat a good team over there.”

This was slated to be the third and fourth meeting between the teams, but last month’s series was halted by rain. The teams were tied at 3-3 in the middle of the sixth inning of the first game and then the second game was postponed because of rain.

The suspended game will resume next Monday followed by the makeup game.

Since the interrupted first series, the Nationals (36-27) are 12-9 in their last 21 games and the Yankees (42-19) are 16-7 in their last 23.

Both teams are coming off 2-0 losses.

Harper leads the National League with 19 homers and is hitting .188 (6-for-32) with one homer and three RBIs in his last eight games. He went 0-for-4 in Sunday’s 2-0 home loss to the San Francisco Giants when the Nationals mustered three hits in a game started by Max Scherzer.

“Today, it just kind of didn’t click all the way through,” Washington shortstop Trea Turner told reporters. “I think it’s a little bit of a coincidence, but when you get traffic on the bases, that helps get better pitches to hit, puts more pressure on them. Hopefully, we can do that to the Yankees on Tuesday.”

The Nationals played without second baseman Daniel Murphy, but he is getting closer to making his season debut from right knee surgery. He has played 10 minor league rehab games, is making the trip to New York and could be activated in this series.

“There’s nothing wrong with the knee,” Washington manager Dave Martinez told reporters. “He knows that. It’s a mind-over-matter deal now. We talked today, and for me it’s: Once he gets here and starts playing, I think he’ll forget about everything and just go out and play. But that’s totally up to him and what he feels comfortable.”

The Yankees became the last team to get blanked this season when they equaled a season low by getting three hits in a 2-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday at Citi Field.

Sunday capped an abbreviated 7-2 road trip that featured two rainouts in Baltimore and a makeup doubleheader in Detroit. The Yankees scored 28 of their 39 runs during the first five games of the trip.

“We always feel that big inning is in there for us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “There’s always that belief and that confidence that we have when the game is unfolding. We had a very successful trip overall; we didn’t necessarily swing the bats great but … we gave ourselves a chance late.”

During the last four games of the trip, the Yankees batted .176 (24-for-136) and 18 of their last 19 runs were scored on home runs.

“We are built, and we have shown time and time again this year against elite pitching and really good teams that our ability to grind you down, more often than not we can take advantage of a mistake, so no, I don’t worry about (being homer dependent),” Boone said. “I think the depth and length of our lineup gives us a really good lineup in the toughest of games.”

In the last four games of the trip, a few Yankees went into slumps ,including Greg Bird (1-for-14), Aaron Judge (2-for-12) and Giancarlo Stanton (2-for-15). Most notable is Gary Sanchez, who is 1-for-17 in his last four games, went 2-for-29 on the trip and is hitting .190.

“Watching the last couple of weeks, he is probably a little bit anxious and hasn’t necessarily struggled like this as a hitter in his career,” Boone said. “Hitting is hard and sometimes you want to chase that hit. You want to get that hit so bad and that can work against you. Results will follow good at-bats. It’s only a matter of time. He will settle in and the hits will fall in.”

The Yankees will face Tanner Roark for the first time, though Stanton is 8-for-33 against him and Neil Walker is 5-for-14 against Roark.

Roark is 3-6 with a 3.56 ERA and is looking to win consecutive starts for the first time this season. Roark posted his first win since April 30 when he allowed two runs and six hits in six innings Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

New York will counter with CC Sabathia, who became the 58th pitcher to reach 240 career wins when he allowed two runs and three hits in seven innings in last Tuesday’s 7-2 win at Toronto. Last week’s outing followed a three-game stretch where the left-hander allowed 16 runs in 14 1/3 innings.

Sabathia is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three career starts against Washington.