Nationals will be challenge for Mariners’ Miranda

WASHINGTON — Seattle Mariners left-hander Ariel Miranda has a big challenge in store on Thursday, when he is slated to pitch against the first-place Washington Nationals (28-17) in the interleague series finale.

The game was originally slated for 4:05 p.m. but has been changed to 12:05 p.m. with rain in the forecast for most of the morning in the nation’s capital with a better window to get the game in during the afternoon.

Miranda (3-2, 4.28 ERA), who is from Cuba and made his major league debut July 3, 2016, will face a Washington lineup that has the best team batting average in the National League at .277 going into Thursday. The Nationals have 70 homers while they have allowed 60.

Three of the top Washington hitters rank among the best in the league: Ryan Zimmerman (.371, 13 homers), Bryce Harper (.342, 14) and Daniel Murphy (.324, 9). There is also third baseman Anthony Rendon, who hit a homer for the second night in a row Wednesday and is batting .277 with eight homers and 31 RBIs as the No. 6 hitter in the lineup.

“He is a tough out,” Washington starter Tanner Roark, who got the win Wednesday, said of Rendon. “He knows the strike zone very well, he doesn’t chase. That is what makes him an elite hitter.”

It will be the 10th start of the year for Miranda and his first career start against Washington. He will be opposed by Washington left-hander Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 2.86 ERA), who is coming off a rough outing and allowed a team-high 10 homers in his first nine starts.

Last-place Seattle is 20-27 this year and 0-8 all-time in Washington. The Mariners were swept 3-0 in previous series in 2005 and 2011 and lost the second game of the series Wednesday night 5-1 as Rendon hit a three-run homer in the first off rookie right-hander Sam Gaviglio.

“I was leaving the ball up,” Gaviglio said. “I got away from my game plan there in the first and it showed.”

Gonzalez last faced Seattle in 2011, when he pitched for the Oakland A’s in the American League West division. He was 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts that season against Seattle.

Gonzalez has had uncanny success against two of the top hitters in the Seattle lineup.

Second baseman Robinson Cano, who came off the disabled list Tuesday, is 0-for-9 in his career against Gonzalez, and slugger Nelson Cruz is 1-for-13. Cano was 3-for-4 Wednesday while Cruz had the night off in a National League park that doesn’t use the designated hitter.

Cruz started in right field on Tuesday and misplayed a ball that Trea Turner turned into a triple.

One player who has been successful against Gonzalez is Jean Segura, who is 7-for-13 for a .538 average. He was 0-for-4 Wednesday but still has a .331 average this year.

Overall Gonzalez is 6-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 12 games, including 10 starts, in his career against the Mariners.

In his last start Gonzalez went 5 2/3 innings and gave up nine hits and four earned runs with three walks and five strikeouts. He did not figure in the decision as the Nationals lost 7-4 in Atlanta to the Braves on Friday.

It was the worst start of the season for Gonzalez, who threw 116 pitches.

Seattle got some bullpen help when they called up prospect Rob Whalen on Wednesday from Triple-A Tacoma. He began this year as the No. 17 prospect in the system after making his major league debut last year with the Atlanta Braves.

“He’ll be available out of the bullpen the next couple of nights,” manager Scott Servais said. “He could start for us over the weekend. We need a starter, I think, on Saturday. So if we need him, we’ll use him out of the bullpen the next couple nights. But if not, he’ll probably start on Saturday.”

The Nationals’ bullpen has also struggled this year and one of their lefty relievers, Sammy Solis, has been on the disabled list since April 19. He has an 8.31 ERA in six outings.

Manager Dusty Baker said he will begin working out in Florida.

“He has been throwing the last three or four days,” Baker said Wednesday. “We are going to send him to Florida under supervision. We will see how he progresses. This will be like his spring training. We will make sure Sammy is here at the end (of the season), which is the most important thing.”

The Nationals have not been involved in a shutout this year. Washington has held opponents to one run in five games, including the last two.