Scherzer goes for 10th as Nats host Rays

WASHINGTON — Nationals ace Max Scherzer goes for his 10th win Tuesday night when Washington hosts the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a two-game series.

Perhaps just as important these days, the Nationals will have Scherzer’s bat in the lineup.

Washington limped home after dropping three of four in Atlanta to fall 1 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East. Their only win came on Saturday when Scherzer delivered a pinch-hit single and scored the go-ahead run in the 14th inning of a 5-3 win.

The Nationals managed just 19 hits and nine runs against the Braves while striking out 44 times.

“I feel like we’ve missed a lot of pitches lately,” Trea Turner, who homered Sunday, told MLB.com. “I know I have. Me and (third baseman Anthony Rendon) talked about it. He feels the same way. I think it’s a matter of not missing those pitches and continuing to compete.”

Scherzer (9-1, 1.92) continues to be a threat at the plate, hitting .310 (9-for-29) with a double and three runs scored. However, preventing runs remains his primary responsibility and he is excelling there too. The right-hander hasn’t lost since April 4.

Last time out, Scherzer allowed two hits and struck out 12 in eight scoreless innings at Baltimore for career win No. 150 after making an adjustment to his mechanics that improved his fastball.

“That’s something that, the past couple of starts, I hadn’t felt great about, being able to execute fastballs where I wanted to,” Scherzer told MLB.com. “That was kind of a point of emphasis the last couple of days, so that I had rhythm and the ability to work both sides of the plate.”

Scherzer is 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA in eight starts versus Tampa Bay.

The Nationals added to their injury report over the weekend. Matt Adams fouled a pitch off his foot Saturday and sat on Sunday, and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson left Sunday’s start in the first inning with a hamstring injury.

Washington’s bullpen was a bright spot, allowing just three earned runs in 15 innings Saturday and Sunday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 0.00) makes his second start of the season in the series opener against the Nationals. Eovaldi allowed no hits and struck out four over six innings in his first start, a 6-0 win against the Athletics.

It was Eovaldi’s first major league appearance since 2016 as a member of the Yankees. Since that time, he has had Tommy John surgery, as well as another elbow procedure to clean up this spring.

“It was pretty fun to watch him pitch for six innings,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB.com after lifting Eovaldi with no-hitter in progress. “But we need him to pitch for the next couple of months for us. Healthy like that. He’ll get built up going forward.”

Eovaldi is 2-4, 5.12 in nine starts against Washington.

The Rays (28-30) have lost four straight, including a weekend sweep by the Mariners.

Blake Snell threw six scoreless innings Sunday, striking out 12, but the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead in an eventual 2-1 loss. Snell tied an AL record with seven consecutive strikeouts to open the game in his first major league appearance in his hometown.

Tuesday marks the return to Washington of Wilson Ramos, who spent parts of seven seasons with the Nationals before signing with Tampa Bay.

“I’m very excited to go back and play there,” Ramos told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “I’ve got good memories. The fans love me in that city. It’s going to be very special for me.”

Ramos caught both of Scherzer’s no hitters and his 20-strikeout game.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez spent 2 1/2 seasons playing for the Devil Rays, two years as a part-time instructor and then seven years as bench coach.