Nationals hope to stay hot in finale at Boston
(Sports Network) - The Washington Nationals try to complete a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox this afternoon as the teams clash at Fenway Park.
Washington, which took all three games from the Red Sox back in 1999 when the organization still resided north of the border and was known as the Montreal Expos, has won four of the last five outings overall thanks to a 4-2 triumph in Saturday's matchup.
Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez won his eighth game of the campaign as he allowed just two Boston runs on three hits and a pair of walks, striking out five over the course of 6 1/3 innings. Tyler Clippard earned his seventh save of the season as well for the visitors as they moved to 16-13 on the road.
Ian Desmond knocked in a couple of runs for the Nationals and Adam LaRoche offset two strikeouts with his seventh home run of the season as the club remained a game in front of the Atlanta Braves for first place in the National League East.
Making his first appearance of the year for the Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka worked his way through five innings, giving up four runs on five hits, but he did manage to strike out eight as Boston pitchers recorded a total of 13 strikeouts in all.
"I like what I saw of him out there today," said Boston manager Bobby Valentine about Matsuzaka. "He had some good movement on his pitches, fastball was strong. You know, eight strikeouts in five innings is pretty good, just have to work on the other stuff."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was credited with knocking in both runs for Boston as the team fell five games off the pace in the American League East and is now in last place in the division, a game below .500 overall.
Trying to work his way back into the win column for the first time since May 22 is Washington hurler Jordan Zimmermann, as he takes the mound this afternoon for the visitors. The right-hander has registered all three of his victories on the road thus far, so appearing at Fenway Park might work in his favor.
A winner in his only previous outing versus the Red Sox in his career, Zimmermann last threw against the New York Mets on Tuesday, giving up just two runs on five hits and striking out five over six innings, but he failed to figure into the 7-6 win for the Nationals.
As for Boston, it has Jon Lester penciled in as the starter today. The Tacoma, Washington product is also searching for his first win in several weeks, last celebrating a May 19 triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies on the road at Citizens Bank Park.
Lester, a left-hander who has a record of 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his career versus the Nats, last pitched on Tuesday against Baltimore, giving up four runs -- two earned -- on eight hits, while striking out five over six innings. But like Zimmermann, Lester also failed to figure into the decision as the Sox slipped in an 8-6 defeat.
The Nationals are getting the job done so far this season with their outstanding pitching, ranked first in the majors in both team ERA (2.97) and batting average against (.221). With his effort yesterday, Gonzalez now has foes hitting a mere .168 against him, the best mark after 12 games to begin a season since 2006, when Francisco Liriano had opponents reeling at the plate as they hit just .163.
Boston figured to challenge the stingy Nats staff in this series, considering Red Sox hitters are ranked third in the majors in overall batting average (.270) and fourth in slugging (.448), but it just hasn't happened.
Washington, now 128-139 all-time in interleague play, is set to take on the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game series beginning tomorrow while the Red Sox, losers of five of the last six outings overall, have trips to Miami and Chicago coming up over the next week.