Jun 18, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Doug Fister made his return from the disabled list on Thursday and matched Rays’ ace Chris Archer through five innings, but it was all spoiled by a sixth inning that proved nothing short of a disaster for the Nats.
Not only did they surrender a lead in their eventual 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay, they saw superstar right fielder Bryce Harper leave the game with an apparent left knee injury.
Harper hurt his knee while attempting a throw to home on a single by Asdrubal Cabrera. He fell and immediately grabbed for his leg as teammates, head trainer Lee Kuntz and manager Matt Williams rushed to his aid. Harper would limp off the field on his own, but it represented an unfortunate turn on a night that was going well for Washington up until that point.
Fister finished with 5 1/3 innings and nine hits, five earned runs, no walks, three strikeouts and a homer allowed on 87 pitches. He ran into trouble in the sixth after cruising for his first five innings.
Archer was the opposite, in that he struggled early with three runs in the first two innings before settling in. He allowed his first run on a Harper single off his ankle, but stayed in the game. Archer finished with three runs allowed across five innings on eight hits and two walks.
The Nationals fell to 34-33 on the season after losing this four-game series to the Rays. They will now hope for better results against the Pirates, who had won seven straight games entering Thursday.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals got off to a surprisingly good start against Archer, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball so far this year. Denard Span got them started with a leadoff walk and then stole second base on an Anthony Rendon strikeout. Span moved to third on a Yunel Escobar single to right field and then scored on Harper’s hit off Archer. Harper smoked a ball off Archer’s ankle and it flew all the way to left field.
Escobar would come home two batters later on a fielder’s choice groundball by Danny Espinosa. The Nats were up 2-0 after one and added a third run in the second on an RBI single by Escobar, giving them an unexpected three-run lead on Archer after two. They were, however, not able to capitalize.
Escobar did go 5-for-5 for the third time this season, but it was in a losing effort.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Fister looked in control until the sixth inning when he started things off by allowing a solo home run to Joey Butler. Butler sailed a high flyball just over the fence in right field. Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe then followed with back-to-back singles before the biggest play of the night went down.
That play began with a single to right field by Cabrera, which brought Forsythe around third and convinced Harper he had a play at home. Harper set up the throw, but tweaked his knee while preparing to plant his back leg for the throw. He then fell to the ground as the throw sailed into the Rays’ dugout. Forsythe scored and then another run came home on Harper’s error.
Blake Treinen took over for Fister and promptly allowed a triple to David DeJesus, who was in to pinch-hit. The ball caromed off the wall in center field over the shoulder of Span and scored another run.
KEY STAT: Entering Thursday’s game, Harper was batting .440 with 14 homers, 39 RBI and a 1.509 OPS in Nationals wins (33), and .245 with eight homers, 13 RBI and an .882 OPS in losses (31).
UP NEXT: The Pittsburgh Pirates come to town to face the Nationals in a weekend series. The first game will feature rookie Joe Ross (1-1, 3.46) against veteran A.J. Burnett (6-2, 1.89).
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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