WASHINGTON -- It has been a rough week for the Washington Nationals' starting rotation.
On Monday, Jeremy Hellickson went on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. Stephen Strasburg joined him Saturday thanks to shoulder inflammation. And the usually reliable Gio Gonzalez lasted just 3 1/3 innings in Saturday's win over the San Francisco Giants.
Staff ace Max Scherzer takes the ball Sunday, looking to restore order in the rubber game of the three-game series.
Scherzer (10-1, 1.95 ERA) leads the majors in wins and is third in ERA behind Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander. He hasn't lost since April 4 and his nine-game winning streak matches the longest of his career. After making a mechanical adjustment, he has allowed just two runs and seven hits in 16 innings during his last two starts.
In a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, Scherzer completed an immaculate inning, striking out Johnny Field, Christian Arroyo and Daniel Robertson on nine pitches, the second time he has done it in his career.
He started 25 of the 28 batters he faced with a first-pitch strike. Of the 99 pitches he threw, 81 were strikes.
"It's hard to compare him to anybody really," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "I'm around him every day. From the other side, you see him and you say, 'Wow, every fifth day, he's really good.' But to see him every day, he's the best. He really is."
After the Nationals' 7-5 win on Saturday, Martinez announced Strasburg's trip to the disabled list. The right-hander left after two innings Friday night with shoulder tightness. An MRI confirmed the team's initial diagnosis of inflammation.
"I honestly thought just the inflammation was a good thing and that nothing else was wrong structurally," Martinez said. "As soon as we can get that to calm down a little bit and get him throwing again, we'll be fine."
The Nationals (36-26) did get a key player back Saturday as outfielder Adam Eaton (ankle injury) returned to play his first game since April 8. Batting leadoff, Eaton scored two early runs, Bryce Harper hit his 19th homer of the season and the Nationals won despite the short outing from Gonzalez.
Giants rookie Dereck Rodriguez (1-1) struggled in his second outing, allowing five runs and six hits in 2 2/3 innings. His father, Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, played his final two seasons with the Nationals and was in attendance -- as were the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, with the Cup in tow.
In his first start, Rodriguez allowed one run in six innings against the Phillies.
"I felt the same," Rodriguez said. "I just didn't have my best stuff. I didn't really locate pitches. I had a couple of opportunities to put some guys away, and I made too good of a pitch."
The Giants (32-32) rallied most of the way back from a 5-0 deficit. Nick Hundley had a three-run, third-inning homer and a seventh-inning RBI double, but the Giants stranded runners on second and third in both the seventh and eighth innings.
"Guys did a good job of battling back. I thought we really had some good, extended ABs against Gonzalez," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We had some guys out there (on base). We just needed another hit."
Left-hander Derek Holland (3-6, 4.91) pitches Sunday for San Francisco. He allowed two runs and four hits in four innings of a no-decision against Arizona the last time out and will be making his first start against the Nationals.