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Nats lose as Reds rock Scherzer in rare poor outing

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Nats lose as Reds rock Scherzer in rare poor outing

FINAL: Reds 5, Nationals 0

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It was billed as a premier pitching matchup between one guy in the middle of a stretch of dominance not seen in a long time and another guy who has been among baseball's best pitchers for several years. And it didn't come close to living up to the billing.

Max Scherzer was rocked by the Reds, a rare dud of a start for the Nationals ace, who was tagged for five runs in only 4 2/3 innings. Scherzer, who had allowed four total runs over his last four starts combined, surrendered four extra-base hits, including a Joey Votto homer in the third.

Johnny Cueto, on the other hand, was every bit as dominant as Scherzer had been over the last few weeks. The Reds right-hander went the distance, tossing a 2-hit shutout, striking out 11 along the way and completely baffling the Nationals' injury-plagued lineup.

And so the Nats fell to 0-5 this season against a Cincinnati club that is 38-44 overall but somehow has owned this opponent like no other.

MORE NATIONALS: SCHERZER DECISION COULD MAKE ANOTHER NAT AN ALL-STAR

HITTING LOWLIGHT: The challenge of facing Cueto was daunting enough, but facing him with five regulars injured might as well have been a death sentence. With Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth on the DL and Denard Span and Yunel Escobar sidelined again with nagging injuries, the Nationals lineup was a shell of what it's supposed to be. Bryce Harper did all he could, singling in the first and walking in the fourth. But the rest of the group couldn't do anything to help the cause. Ian Desmond's leadoff triple in the fifth represented the Nats' only other hit off Cueto ... and he didn't even score after Matt den Dekker, Taylor Jordan and Michael Taylor all struck out.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: The notion of Scherzer being a lowlight was unfathomable only three hours ago, and it still doesn't seem plausible. But there it was tonight, a legitimately poor outing by the right-hander, who was tagged for five runs and seven hits in only 4 2/3 innings. It was the first time Scherzer didn't complete six innings this season, the first time he didn't complete five innings since June 17, 2014, a streak of 34 starts between two organizations in two leagues. You could tell right away he wasn't in top form, though. Scherzer was quite deliberate in delivering his pitches in the top of the first and missed his target by several feet on several occasions. Scherzer certainly was entitled to one bad start after a historically dominant stretch, but it was still jarring to witness.

KEY STAT: Cueto has now pitched at least five innings in 52 consecutive starts, the longest such streak in the majors.

UP NEXT: The series concludes at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday when Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 4.16) faces right-hander Michael Lorenzen (3-3, 3.58).

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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USA TODAY Sports

Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.