If the Washington Nationals were waiting for the right time to turn around their play at RFK Stadium, the opportunity is here and the ramifications are somewhat historic.
The Nationals (15-28) try to win two in a row at home for the first time this season when they meet the Baltimore Orioles (20-23) in the finale of their three-game series on Sunday. The winner of the interleague matchup will take the first regular-season major league series between the cities since 1971, when D.C. was home to the AL’s Washington Senators.
After being held to just five hits in Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Orioles, Washington broke out with 10 in Saturday’s 8-3 victory and improved to 4-11 at home. The Nationals had averaged just 3.21 runs at RFK Stadium before Saturday, when they surpassed their total output from the previous four games combined.
“We played aggressive,” said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored. “If we can just keep doing that, and make them make mistakes instead of just sitting back and waiting for something to happen, I think we’ll turn this around.”
Alfonso Soriano is doing his best to single-handedly turn things around as he has homered in three straight games and five of his last seven. The left-fielder is 5-for-14 with six RBIs in his last four games against the Orioles and has a career batting average of .296 (93-for-314) against them with 21 doubles and 21 home runs.
The Nationals were 8-1 in interleague games at home last season and Livan Hernandez (1-5, 6.04) will try to help them improve to 2-1 this season when he takes the mound Sunday. The right-hander is winless in his last seven starts and will be trying to regain the form that helped him post double-digit wins in six straight seasons.
Hernandez allowed two earned runs and eight hits over seven innings in Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
“I felt good (Tuesday), much better than the last time,” said Hernandez, who has given up 15 walks in his last four starts.
Hernandez is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in two career appearances versus the Orioles and 15-11 in 32 interleague starts.
Bruce Chen (0-4, 8.23) makes his eighth start of the season for Baltimore on Sunday still searching for his first win. The left-lander didn’t receive a decision in Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to Boston, allowing four runs and five hits over four innings. He walked two and gave up two home runs to bring his season total to 13 homers allowed in only 35 innings while allowing opposing batters to hit .351.
“I know I threw a lot of pitches, but I’m not going to give in,” said Chen, who posted 13 wins last season. “I’m here, and I’m trying to fight. I’m trying to do everything possible to help this team win.”
The 28-year-old journeyman was 2-3 with a 6.99 ERA in 15 appearances for the Expos in 2002—before the franchise moved to Washington. He is 2-0 with a 5.33 ERA in nine appearances versus the Expos/Nationals.
Chen hopes his team can come through with more clutch hits as the Orioles have stranded 22 base runners over the last two games. Shortstop Miguel Tejada was 1-for-3 with two runs scored in Saturday’s loss and is hitting .345 (10-for-29) during an eight-game hitting streak.
The Orioles were just 2-7 on the road in interleague play last season.