Nationals, Royals ready for rare matchup

Field Level Media

May 26, 2023 at 12:39 pm.

The Washington Nationals are set to visit Kansas City for the first time in seven years when they oppose the Royals in the opener of a three-game set on Friday.

Washington took two of three at Kansas City in May 2016. The teams have met once since then, when the host Nationals claimed two of three in July 2019.

Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin (3-5, 4.47 ERA) will oppose Royals right-hander Jordan Lyles (0-8, 7.15) on Friday.

Corbin helped the Nationals to their 2019 series victory by throwing seven shutout innings, striking out 11 and walking none. He got a no-decision in a game that Washington won 5-2.

Corbin has allowed no runs over 9 2/3 innings in two appearances against the Royals. Among current Kansas City hitters, only Matt Duffy has hit safely against Corbin, going 3-for-12.

In each of his seven starts since April 16, Corbin has thrown at least 5 1/3 innings while allowing no more than three earned runs. He has six quality starts this year, tied for fifth in the National League.

Corbin, who is coming off consecutive wins, hasn’t won three straight decisions since May 2021. His command of the strike zone has been especially sharp of late, as he has allowed just one walk over his past 25 innings.

The Nationals arrive in Kansas City after dropping an 8-6 decision against the San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon to complete a 3-3 homestand.

While Washington has lost six of its past nine games, its offense has been more productive recently, generating 52 runs in the past 10 games.

Leadoff hitter Lane Thomas has a 10-game hitting streak in which he is batting .366 (15-for-41) with three home runs.

Ildemaro Vargas has hit safely in six of eight games since his May 3 return from the 10-day injured list, batting .440 (11-for-25). He had been out for almost a month due to a left shoulder strain.

“I can’t say enough about what Vargas does,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He goes out there and plays with a lot of fun, a lot of energy.”

Over his past 10 games, Washington’s Jeimer Candelario is hitting .436 (17-for-39) with eight extra-base hits. Among Nationals hitters, Candelario has the most experience against Lyles, with one hit in eight at-bats.

“When he gets ready to hit the fastball, he’s really good, and he’ll stay consistent,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing is getting out of his mind about trying to hit home runs every at-bat. He’s got enough power that when he hits the ball and gets it in the air, he’ll hit home runs.”

Lyles is 0-3 with a 5.71 ERA in 12 previous games (four starts) against Washington. He faced the Nationals most recently while taking a loss for the Baltimore Orioles on June 21, 2022, when he yielded two runs in 6 1/3 innings.

Lyles’ 7.15 ERA is highest among major league starting pitchers, and his 14 home runs allowed are tied for the majors’ most.

Consistent starting pitching has been elusive for the Royals, who have just one win by a starter since May 11. The club has racked up 49 relief appearances while losing nine of 13 games in that span.

Kansas City’s rotation is 8-26 with a 5.49 ERA.

The Royals bolstered their heavily taxed bullpen this week by promoting right-hander Nick Wittgren from Triple-A Omaha, where he had five saves and a 1.25 ERA in 17 appearances. He struggled in his debut for Kansas City on Wednesday, allowing two runs in two innings.

“He’s still developing,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said of the eight-year veteran. “He used to be heavy changeup. Now he’s developed a cutter/slider.”

Wittgren said, “I changed up my slider this offseason and it’s helped me out quite a bit. I’m attacking the zone with all four pitches. It’s paying off pretty well.”