Rest or not, Nationals pose challenge for Reds (Jul 15, 2017)

BY AP • July 15, 2017

CINCINNATI -- The Washington Nationals went into their first series of the so-called second half of the 2017 season with a lineup that included the National League's top three hitters.

There was a good chance the Cincinnati Reds would see all three -- in order of batting average rank, second baseman Dan Murphy, first basemann Ryan Zimmerman and right fielder Bryce Harper -- in the same lineup just once.

Washington manager Dusty Baker planned to give each of them -- starters in Tuesday's All-Star Game along with right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer -- a day off shortly after the break.

"I've learned over the years that a lot of times, when they come back from the All-Star Game, they start slow," said Baker, who's managed many All-Stars in his 22 seasons as a major league manager and was named to six All-Star teams as a player.

The process started on Friday with the 32-year-old Murphy missing the opener of the four-game series at Great American Ball Park. Zimmerman, also 32, was next on Baker's list, though it wasn't clear whether the manager planned to sit the veteran on Saturday or Sunday.

"Harper will get one soon," Baker promised, adding, "He's younger."

Harper doesn't believe he needs a day off, and hitting two home runs in Friday's 5-0 win fortifies his point.

"Me, Murph and Zim are possibly going to get some days off," Harper admitted. "I want to stay in the lineup. Every single day, I'm in there to do some damage."

Even with a high-average hitter out of the lineup, the Nationals promise to put plenty of pressure on Cincinnati right-hander Luis Castillo (1-1), who made his major league debut at Washington on June 23. Castillo allowed five hits and two runs on solo homers by Brian Goodwin and Anthony Rendon in five innings and was in line for the win before a blown save led to a 6-5 Washington win.

Castillo's inexperience helped lead to him being slotted to pitch the second game after the break, according to manager Bryan Price, who had the option of slotting his starters as he wished. Price also wanted to give right-hander Homer Bailey, who's made four starts since coming off the disabled list, and right-handed Scott Feldman extra time before returning to the mound.

"We wanted a more experienced guy out front," Price explained. "It didn't make sense for Homer to go, since he just came back, and Feldman has been having some general knee stiffness. It came down to Adleman and Castillo, and Adleman had more rest."

Scherzer (10-5), who had two strikeouts while pitching the first inning of the All-Star Game, takes major league-best 2.10 earned-run average and National League-leading 173 strikeouts into Saturday's start. Scherzer is 1-1 in three career starts against the Reds.

"We haven't had to tip our cap to opposing pitchers too often this season, but we're going to face some good pitching in this series, and we're going to have to put more pressure on their guys," Price said after Cincinnati's 5-0 loss to the Nationals on Friday.

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