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Nats lose to Rays and reach halfway point of season after four-game losing streak

TAMPA – On Friday night, Jose Siri tossed his racket to the side twice and held his left hand in the air – much like a basketball player posing after making a jump shot.

The first incident occurred in the second inning when Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Siri hit a solo shot against Mitchell Parker that landed in the left field seats. Siri’s second home run – in the sixth against Jacob Barnes – sailed over the head of center fielder Jacob Young, who eventually stopped running and just turned his head as the ball flew over the wall.

The two solo hits made the difference in the Washington Nationals’ 3-1 loss to the Rays, their fourth straight loss. The first home run had an exit velocity of 108.5 mph and traveled 405 feet. The second had 107.1 mph and traveled 428 feet. The Nationals had just five hits in the final series of a 10-day, three-city trip, going 0 of 6 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals looked like a team nearing the end of a long journey. They looked like a team that needed a spark. And as luck would have it, that spark could come on Monday with the arrival of highly touted prospect James Wood.

The Nationals are in the heart of the National League wild-card race at midseason, but are starting to fall behind. They began a series in Colorado last Friday just a half-game out of the final wild-card spot in the NL. They began Friday three games from the end of a nine-game road trip that has involved some chaos.

“We were one game under .500 before we went to San Diego,” Young said. “So I think that’s where we are. We’ve played a lot of teams hard. We’ve had a pretty tough schedule. … We’ve got to get those wins and get out of this little four-game slump that we’re in.”

The loss dropped the Nationals’ record to 2-5, but they have continued to exceed expectations – reaching the halfway point of the season at 38-43, five games better than their record at the halfway point of last season (33-48).

“We’re doing pretty well,” said manager Dave Martinez. “We’ve lost some tough games on this trip, but we’re going to bounce back.”

Their young stars have taken positive steps. Shortstop CJ Abrams, who finished 0 for 2 and was hit by a pitch twice (requiring a postgame X-ray that came back negative), rebounded from a poor May and leads the team in home runs (12), RBI (40) and OPS (.832), though his defense still needs improvement. Luis GarcĂ­a Jr., who went 1 for 4 on Friday, was more consistent at bat and improved his range on defense.

Pitchers Jake Irvin and MacKenzie Gore both have an ERA under 4.00, as does Parker — who wasn’t in the team’s immediate plans at the start of the season. Catcher Keibert Ruiz is the only young starter whose performance has noticeably declined. After his two-strikeout performance on Friday, his batting average dropped to .197 and his OPS to .530. He also hasn’t made the strides on defense the team had hoped for.

Friday’s loss was in some ways a microcosm of the team’s season — strong starting pitchers but an offense that can’t provide enough support. Washington’s ERA was 15th in the major leagues entering Friday, but its offense had the fifth-lowest slugging percentage.

Parker retired the final seven batters, but Washington’s offense had little to offer against Zach Eflin. The Nationals played most of the game without Jesse Winker, who fell awkwardly into the wall while catching in the first inning after his cleat caught in the turf. He said there was no structural damage and he was confident he would be able to play Saturday.

Their only extra-base hits were two doubles by Young. He stalled on third base after his first in the third inning. His second came in the seventh, and he trotted home on a wild pitch after stealing third base.

Despite losing on Friday, the Nationals are optimistic about their performance after 81 games.

“If we were all sitting in Palm Beach and we were told we were right here, right now, at this point, we’d all be pretty excited,” Winker said. “Keeping that in perspective is obviously a big deal.”

Remarks: Cade Cavalli, who battled the flu earlier this week, played catch Friday as he continues his rehab after Tommy John surgery. Cavalli made his second rehab start of the season last Friday, throwing three scoreless innings for top-ranked Wilmington (N.C.) before becoming ill. Martinez said the team has not yet decided when he will make his next start. …

Josiah Gray will make another rehab start at Class AAA Rochester (NY) on Sunday, his fifth this month. In his previous outing, Gray threw six innings and allowed one run on 73 pitches for Rochester. …

Joey Gallo is on the right track after a hamstring injury he suffered in mid-June, riding an exercise bike, hitting off a tee and throwing from 120 feet.

Washington Nationals

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