Slumping Nationals hope to turn tide vs. Red Sox

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals are approaching July 4 on the verge of becoming what nobody predicted them to be when the season started — a .500 club.

Washington fell to 42-41 Monday night with 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox, their sixth loss in seven games. Once again, they did almost enough to win, falling behind 3-0 and rallying within one before Craig Kimbrell retired Anthony Rendon with the tying run on base to end it.

Max Scherzer, who has had an impressive year at the plate as well as on the mound, ironically was done in by friend and former pitching teammate Rick Porcello, whose bases-loaded double off Scherzer in the second inning made it 3-0.

“I wish I had a lot to say about that, but I don’t really know what happened,” Porcello, who improved to 10-3, told NESN.com. “Obviously I know he’s got a big fastball and I just got lucky. He got to the top of his windup and I told myself start swinging and I hit it.”

With the loss, Washington dropped seven games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

“This is where the test is, that even when things aren’t going your way, when things are bleak, when we haven’t been playing great baseball, you have to find a way to take and find certain things you are doing well and just try to build off those,” Scherzer, winless in his last five starts, told MASN.com. “That’s just what the whole team has to do.”

The Red Sox (57-29) survived solo homers by Rendon in the fourth, Daniel Murphy in the sixth and Bryce Harper in the eighth.

Reliever Joe Kelly surrendered the Harper homer to cut Boston’s lead to 4-3. Since the start of June, Kelly has pitched 9 1/3 innings and allowed 12 hits and nine earned runs.

“We’ll keep working with him, one thing that he needs to do better is tempo,” Red Sox manager Joey Cora said. “I think his tempo is going the other way instead of being more aggressive, and just grab the ball and throw it. So, we’ll talk to him.”

Boston left-hander Brian Johnson (1-2, 4.28) opposes right-hander Tanner Roark (3-9, 4.10) on Tuesday night.

Johnson allowed a run in four innings for the Red Sox Thursday night against the Angels in place of Steven Wright, who went on the disabled list with a knee injury early last week. Tuesday could be Johnson’s last turn in the rotation with Drew Pomeranz close to returning.

Roark is glad to put June in his rearview mirror. He went 1-4 with a 6.08 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance, surrendering 18 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings. He did show improvement last time out, allowing two runs — one earned — on seven hits over six innings of a 4-3 loss to the Phillies while sporting a mustache and mutton chops.

“Tanner pitched good enough to win and that was good to see,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told the Washington Post. “He started off a little erratic and then all of a sudden he started getting the ball down, which is good. He pitched well.”

Roark, sounding like any respectably superstitious baseball player, told the Post he’s keeping the mutton chops.

“I feel like it’s a pretty decent look,” he said.