The Nationals will give the ball to Jordan Zimmermann first out of the All-Star break, sending the right-hander to the mound Friday night against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the opener of a star-studded weekend series.
Doug Fister, whose turn before the break was skipped, will start Saturday afternoon against fellow right-hander Mike Bolsinger. All of that will be a mere prelude to Sunday's series finale, which pits All-Stars and Cy Young Award contenders Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke against each other at Nationals Park.
The Nationals could have elected to start Scherzer right out of the break, given that he would have been on regular rest after starting last Sunday's first-half finale in Baltimore. But the club chose to give its ace another two days to regroup after attending (but not pitching in) the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
Scherzer still winds up in the highest-profile matchup of the weekend, putting his 2.11 ERA and MLB-best 0.78 WHIP up against Greinke and his MLB-best 1.39 ERA, not to mention 35 2/3 consecutive-innings scoreless streak. Greinke did start Tuesday's All-Star Game, allowing a leadoff homer to Mike Trout but striking out four over two solid innings.
Sunday's finale may draw the most headlines, but Friday's second-half opener would otherwise be touted as one of the better pitching matchups out there. Kershaw hasn't been able to duplicate his Cy Young numbers from last season, but he still owns a 2.85 ERA and NL-best 160 strikeouts. Zimmermann, meanwhile, enters the second half with an 8-5 record and 3.22 ERA, with 14 quality starts out of 18 overall appearances.
Fister will be taking the mound Saturday after a 12-day break, his last turn in the rotation having been skipped as a result of a rainout against the Reds. The right-hander has been a bit inconsistent since returning from a forearm strain, going 3-4 with a 4.08 ERA in 11 total starts.
Bolsinger has emerged as a surprisingly effective member of the Dodgers rotation this season. The 27-year-old right-hander is 4-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 13 starts.
The Nationals haven't announced their rotation plans beyond the weekend yet, but they are now set up to pitch Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark (filling in for the injured Stephen Strasburg) and Zimmermann in next week's series against the second-place Mets.