Nationals, Josh Bell look to break out against Diamondbacks

MLB

Josh Bell hit 37 homers and drove in 116 runs with a .936 OPS while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019.

Since then, however, he has slumped, producing just eight homers and a .669 OPS last year in his final season for the Pirates.

This year, now with the Washington Nationals, Bell’s slump has hit rock bottom as he entered Thursday with a .133 batting average.

On Thursday, however, Bell slugged a two-out, two-run homer in the first inning of Washington’s 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

“That was my best swing of the year by far,” Bell said. “Most connected, best ball flight — hopefully there will be more to come.”

The Nationals, with perhaps a revitalized Bell, headed across the country after Thursday’s afternoon game to open a series against the host Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.

Washington snapped a four-game losing streak on Thursday. But the Nationals are still just 2-7 in the past nine games, and they are 5-9 on the road.

The good news for the Nationals is that they will send right-hander Max Scherzer (2-2, 2.33 ERA) to the mound on Friday. He is 7-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 career starts against Arizona.

Scherzer beat Arizona, 11-1, on May 11, striking out six in seven innings. He also allowed five hits, one walk and one run. Arizona avoided a shutout in that game when Jordan Pacheco hit a solo homer off of Scherzer in the sixth inning.

Washington’s offense, aside from Bell, features star right fielder Juan Soto and stellar shortstop Trea Turner, who is off to an incredible start with a team-high eight homers and seven steals in seven tries.

Meanwhile, Arizona, which lost to the visiting Miami Marlins, 5-1, on Thursday night, will counter Scherzer with right-hander Riley Smith (1-2, 4.85 ERA).

Smith, who has never faced Washington, has been more effective as a reliever than as a starter since breaking into the majors last year. As a reliever, he is 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in nine appearances. But in four starts, he is 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA.

He also has reverse splits as lefty batters are hitting just .219 against him with a .594 OPS. But righty batters are hitting .304 with a .764 OPS.

The good news for Smith as it pertains to Friday is that he has been much better at home than on the road. At home, he is 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA. On the road, he is 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA.

Then again, the entire Diamondbacks team would likely much rather be at home, especially after they finished a 0-6 road trip on Sunday.

On Thursday, Arizona got shut down by Marlins rookie left-hander Trevor Rogers, who gave up just five hits.

Arizona had just one extra-base hit — a double by Tim Locastro, who also scored the Diamondbacks’ only run.

Arizona also got bad news when it was determined that first baseman Asdrubal Cabrera suffered a strained right hamstring.

If the injury keeps Cabrera out of the lineup for any duration, he will be missed. He had two of Arizona’s five hits on Thursday and is batting .289 this season.

–Field Level Media

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