Reds’ Bailey to make season debut against Nationals

WASHINGTON — Homer Bailey wouldn’t go as far to say that he is excited to make his first major league start of the year on Saturday.

“Anxious may be a better word. I’m glad to be back,” the Cincinnati right-hander said Friday, sitting in the Reds’ clubhouse at Nationals Park.

Bailey is slated take the mound to face the first-place Washington Nationals, who entered Friday leading the National League in hitting (.274), slugging (.472), OPS (.811), homers (110), extra-base hits (268), runs (398) and RBIs (390).

Washington will counter with right-hander Joe Ross (3-3, 5.98), who has struggled mightily this year in his third big league campaign.

The Nationals won the first game of the series 6-5 on Friday in 10 innings as Bryce Harper had a walkoff single on a 3-2 pitch with two runners on base with two outs.

Bailey is scheduled to come off the 60-day disabled list to make his fifth career appearance and start against Washington and his fourth start at Nationals Park.

In the last three seasons, Bailey has made just eight starts for the Reds while coming back from three surgeries. The most recent surgery was Feb. 18, 2017, to remove the bone spurs in his right elbow.

Bailey, 31, a major leaguer since 2007, made three minor league rehab appearances to prepare for his outing Saturday.

He went 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 16 2/3 innings and allowed just 11 hits while pitching for Double-A Pensacola, Class A Dayton and Triple-A Louisville.

How is he feeling?

“As good as can be expected. My control is there,” he said.

Bailey is 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA in his career against Washington and 0-3, 5.40 at Nationals Park.

He has limited experience against most of the Washington hitters.

The Nationals batter with the most appearances against Bailey is outfielder Jayson Werth, who is 4-for-11 but is on the disabled list with a left foot contusion.

Adam Lind is 3-for-3 against Bailey with a homer and Ryan Zimmerman is 1-for-5.

Reds manager Bryan Price is excited to see Bailey back.

“For all of the right reasons. It means a lot of to have a veteran presence here,” Price said.

Ross has faced the Reds just once in his career. That was July 2, 2016, when he gave up 10 hits and four earned runs with two strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

He did not figure in the decision as he had two strikeouts with one walk.

Ross was tagged with the loss in a 5-1 setback against the Mets in New York on Sunday.

“That’s a young pitcher,” Washington manager Dusty Baker told reporters after the game.

But the Nationals are counting on Ross to nail down the No. 5 spot in the rotation, which takes on more importance as Tanner Roark has struggled as late as well.

In his short career, Ross has pitched in 44 games, with 41 starts. Bailey, meanwhile, will make his 175th appearance — all starts.

Even with a strong offense, the Nationals have been stretched thin in the outfield as Werth has been on the disabled list since June 5 with a left foot contusion.

Michael A. Taylor, who became the regular center fielder when Adam Eaton was injured in late April, missed his second straight game Friday though he did pinch hit.

“He feels better today,” said Baker, who would not reveal the injury. “I hate to disclose anything.”

Wilmer Difo, who came up through the minors as an infielder, made his first career start in center field Friday against the Reds. Brian Goodwin started in left for the Nationals and had three hits, including two homers.

“If you can play shortstop, you can play center fielder,” Baker said of Difo.