Although a lack of offense has played a key role in their slide, the Washington Nationals hope they've put an end to those struggles behind an unlikely source.
Michael A. Taylor can do something no rookie has done in club history as the Nationals try to win consecutive series for the first time in two months Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Washington batted .175 while totaling 74 strikeouts and 17 runs in its losses during a 2-8 stretch that dropped it five games back in the NL East before Saturday's 6-1 home victory.
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Taylor, who is filling in for injured outfielder Denard Span, is doing his best to provide a spark for the team's slumping attack. He hit an estimated 490-foot home run Thursday at Colorado and homered for a third consecutive game as the Nationals evened this series Saturday.
Now he has a chance to become the first National to go deep in four straight games since Adam LaRoche in 2012. The franchise has never had a rookie do it, including its time as the Montreal Expos.
''Mentally, I'm just trying to tone things down a little bit at the plate,'' Taylor said. ''Just trying to be more consistent making contact instead of trying to crush baseballs.''
Washington, the preseason division favorite, hasn't won consecutive series since late June and last won two straight at home during a nine-game run from June 19-July 5.
Another strong offensive performance seems likely with Matt Garza starting the finale Sunday for Milwaukee. Garza is 0-3 with a 6.27 ERA in seven career meetings against the Nationals.
The right-hander has allowed 12 runs and 13 hits over 2 1-3 innings in a pair of outings at Nationals Park. He recorded one out while giving up five runs in his most recent start there in July 2014.
Garza (6-13, 4.98 ERA) didn't get much help from his defense (four errors) June 11 when he yielded five runs - one earned - over six innings and did not factor in a 6-5 win over Washington.
He had gone 2-2 with a 2.56 ERA over his previous five starts overall before regressing to his early-season form by giving up five runs over five innings in Monday's 6-2 loss to Miami.
"I haven't been getting away with anything this year," he told MLB's official website.
Jayson Werth is 6 for 14 with a home run when facing Garza. Yunel Escobar has gone 1 for 10 in the matchup, and he's day-to-day due to a hyper-extended neck.
After allowing one run while working into the seventh inning in each of his previous two starts, Jordan Zimmermann gave up six runs - four earned - over six in Tuesday's 15-6 win at Colorado. He could bounce back at Nationals Park, where he has a 2.44 ERA in 13 starts.
Zimmermann (9-8, 3.44) had been 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA in five career starts versus Milwaukee (53-71) before surrendering six runs and nine hits over 3 1-3 innings in an 8-4 road loss June 12.
Scooter Gennett went 2 for 2 with a double off the right-hander, while Jean Segura is 5 for 13 with a triple and a double lifetime in the matchup. Segura had two hits and Khris Davis hit his 15th home run Saturday but the Brewers lost for the 10th time in 13 road games.