Nationals ride momentum into rubber game with Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays got a good look Saturday at what a blockbuster trade did for the Washington Nationals nearly two years ago.

The clubs will square off Sunday afternoon in the rubber match of their three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla.

On Friday night, the Rays received a strong outing from starter Zach Eflin in a 3-1 win.

The Nationals answered with one of their own Saturday when Jake Irvin fired six innings of one-hit, one-run ball in an 8-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

While Irvin dominated on the mound, shortstop CJ Abrams displayed the clout he can bring to manager Dave Martinez’s lineup from the leadoff spot.

Abrams, 23, homered on the fourth pitch of the game, went 2-for-3 with a double, walk, two RBIs and two runs, and sparked an offensive showing that led to a six-run seventh inning as the Nationals rolled over the Rays.

On Friday, Martinez said the key pieces obtained in the August 2022 trade that sent budding superstar outfielder Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres also brought back a few great returns.

Abrams is right at the center, hitting .282 with 13 homers, 42 RBIs and 13 stolen bases this season. He stole 47 bases last year in his first full season in the nation’s capital.

“We lost a really good player, as we all know,” Martinez said. “But to get the quality players that we got and helping us out in the big leagues right now with more to come, it’s exciting. We definitely have a bright future.”

Also part of that future are southpaw starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore (6-7, 3.60 ERA) and outfielder James Wood, the overall No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

Reports surfaced Friday that Wood would be called up Monday from Triple-A Rochester to Washington for his debut to begin a four-game series against the New York Mets, one of the clubs the Nationals are chasing.

Nats left-hander Patrick Corbin (1-7, 5.46 ERA) will look to get his disappointing season back on track in the series finale on Sunday.

He has lost four decisions in a row, with his lone win coming 5-1 at the Boston Red Sox on May 10.

In just two career starts against the Rays, Corbin is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA over 11 innings.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash hopes his players put Saturday’s setback far behind them and focus on getting back to .500.

The problem Saturday was a serious lack of offense — just Brandon Lowe’s first-inning homer and Randy Arozarena’s seventh-inning single — and far too much clutter on the basepaths.

“They put pressure on us early on,” Cash said of the Nationals’ attack. “A lot of the leadoff hitters were getting on base. There was traffic.”

In a top of the seventh that created a massive amount of separation, Rays reliever Shawn Armstrong allowed all six runs and seven hits in one-third of an inning.

“I feel for (Armstrong). That happened pretty quick,” Cash said. “The Nationals, for whatever reason, were really ready to go today. They sprayed the ball around pretty good.”

Yandy Diaz’s franchise-record hitting streak and career-best on-base streak ended at 20 and 29 games, respectively.

On Sunday, Rays right-hander Taj Bradley (2-4, 3.81 ERA) will make his first career start against the Nationals.

–Field Level Media