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WASHINGTON NATIONALS (27-18) at CHICAGO CUBS (24-20)
The Washington Nationals look to continue their recent hot play when they take on the Chicago Cubs in the second of three games this Tuesday night.
The Nationals may have had a rough start to the 2015 season, but they have turned it around in a big way with victories in 20 of their last 25 games and are 8-1 in their last nine. They havent lost a series since late April and have given up a mere five runs in their last four wins. In the first contest of this series they managed a close 2-1 win after getting a meager five hits; two of which went for solo homers. One of the knocks also came off the bat of OF Bryce Harper (.333) who is hitting .386 in the month of May with 11 HRs and 26 RBIs. Chicago has had a breakout campaign as it looks towards the future with an infield of young superstars and is currently second in the NL Central despite losing three of its past four games. Two of those came against Arizona when they lost the series while putting up 16 runs in the three contests. The offense struggled in Mondays loss to Washington when they had just five hits and only one opportunity with RISP. The single run came off of the bat of 3B Kris Bryant (.282) who has been a big run producer since jumping to the big leagues and has three long balls with 10 RBI in the past 10 performances. The start will go to RHP Jordan Zimmerman (4-2, 3.52 ERA) of the blistering hot Nationals as he opposes RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 4.14 ERA) of the host Cubs. On the road thus far in 2015, Washington is a solid 13-11 as they face this Chicago group which is 13-9 at Wrigley after Mondays loss. The two teams have played each other 15 times since the start of the 2013 season and in that time the Nationals are 9-6 with a record of 6-3 on the road. In the last series here in 2014, the Cubs took 2-of-4 contests with 14 runs scored in the four-game set. Trends show that Washington is 38-13 (.745) during night games that Zimmerman started in the past two seasons while Chicago is 49-35 (.583) after batting .240 or worse over a 15 game span in the same timeframe. The Nationals continue to play without key players 3B Anthony Rendon (Knee) and OF Jayson Werth (Wrist) as the Cubs are missing depth from OF Chris Denorfia (Hamstring), 2B Tommy La Stella (Ribs) and 3B Mike Olt (Wrist).
Just like his team, Zimmerman had a rough start to the year and gave up 15 runs (12 ER) in his first four starts. Since then he has gone back to his old self with a 3-0 record as hes had a quality outing each time. The Nationals have won each of those starts as he owns a 25:6 K/BB ratio in the five performances. His 6.0 K/9 so far is his lowest mark in his career, but he has continued to show some tremendous control (1.8 BB/9) and limits the damage with two home runs allowed in his 53.2 frames (0.34 HR/9). Zimmerman hasnt performed at all well when facing the Cubs in his career, going 1-4 (3-4 team record) with a 4.81 ERA (1.30 WHIP), but was huge (6 IP, 0 ER, 7 H, 5 K) when he saw them once last year. The righty hasnt seen many of the youngsters that are new to Chicago, but does have a tough past against C Miguel Montero who is 6-for-17 (.375) with three doubles and two RBI in the matchup. On the other side of things, he has dominated the likes of SS Starlin Castro (3-for-19) and OF Dexter Fowler (2-for-13, 5 K). The bullpen for Washington has gone 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA (1.20 WHIP) and is 17-for-23 (74percent) in save chances. Drew Storen (0.89 ERA, 15 saves) has just one of the blown saves and comes into this contest with 13.1 consecutive scoreless innings in which he owns an 18:1 K/BB ratio.
Hendricks did all the necessary steps to becoming a better pitcher in each successive season and has parlayed that into a successful start to his career. Last year, he posted a 2.46 ERA over 13 starts and while his 4.14 ERA this season may seem much worse, he has done so while striking out more batters (7.3 K/9) and has not lost the control (1.8 BB/9). Things are looking good for the 25-year-old after his last start, though, when he pitched a complete-game shutout against the San Diego Padres and gave up a mere five hits with seven strikeouts (0 walks) in the process. The youngster has never faced the Nationals in his career and will certainly need to not only watch out for OF Bryce Harper (.333), but also SS Ian Desmond (.247) who is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak in which he is 13-for-40 (.325) with three doubles, two HRs and seven RBI. On the other hand, he may get a free pass if facing OF Michael Taylor (.221) who is a meager 2-for-24 (.083) with 11 strikeouts in his last nine games played. The relievers for Chicago have combined to go 10-9 with a 4.06 ERA (1.32 WHIP) and have successfully saved just 11-of-19 (58percent) games. Hector Rondon (3.60 ERA, 9 saves) has blown a save in two of his last three attempts with seven hits allowed in his past five innings of work.
MLB reviewing controversial pitching change
The Angels were playing the game under protest before rallying for three runs in the eighth inning to win, 6-5. Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued with the umpires that Astros manager Bo Porter made an illegal pitching change in the seventh inning.
With runners at first and third and two outs, Porter brought in lefty Wesley Wright to face left-handed hitter J.B. Shuck. Before Wright threw a pitch, Porter subbed in the right-handed Hector Ambriz after he saw right-hander Luis Jimenez on deck to pinch-hit.
Rule 3.05 (b) says that a pitcher must face at least one hitter before he can come out of the game, unless he's injured. Wright wasn't injured, and Scioscia argued at length with the umpires before notifying them he was playing the game under protest.
"My contention was that the pitcher who came in had to face one batter," Scioscia said Thursday. "That's why I protested it, and we're happy we won."
Porter said following the game that he'd been in a meeting last year with Nationals manager Davey Johnson that laid out the rule. Porter was Washington's third-base coach at the time.
"If you have to pinch-hit for that batter, you now have the right to bring in another pitcher," Porter said. "Technically, Wesley came in to pitch to the batter that was scheduled to hit [Shuck]. But [Jiminez] pinch-hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit, which, from my understanding of the rule, you can bring in another pitcher to face the pinch-hitter."
Porter said he stopped to talk to the umpires to make sure Jimenez was officially in the game.
"Once I made sure that he pinch-hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit, then I started towards the mound," Porter said. "The home-plate umpire [Adrian Johnson], he kind of stopped me. He said, 'Whoa, Bo,' and then Scioscia started yelling, '[Wright] has to face a hitter.'
"I just calmly explained to him my interpretation of the rule is, 'Yes, [Wright] has to face the hitter, as long as it's the hitter that's scheduled to hit.' The hitter that was scheduled to hit had now been pinch-hit for, which now gives me the right to bring a pitcher to face the pinch-hitter."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.