- - Thursday, June 7, 2018

Baseball’s hottest team looks to improve to a season-best 11 games over .500 when the Washington Nationals host the San Francisco Giants (31-31) Friday at 7:05 p.m. in the first of a three-game set. The Giants have won six of their last 10 after a rough start to the season. Both teams had off days Thursday.

The Nationals have won 11 of their last 15 and are 24-9 since April 29 — best in the majors.

The surge has them tied for first in the National League East with Atlanta, even though Washington (35-25) has not had injured second baseman Daniel Murphy (October knee surgery) all season. He was 0-for-3 Wednesday and played first base for Double-A Harrisburg.

Left fielder Adam Eaton and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman are on the disabled list, as is catcher Matt Wieters and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. A look at the weekend series:

Strickland vs. Harper

Washington slugger Bryce Harper hit two home runs against Giants reliever Hunter Strickland in the 2014 postseason.

Then Strickland hit Harper with a pitch in San Francisco in 2017, leading to a brawl as Harper charged the mound.

Perhaps nothing will happen this weekend, just as nothing happened when the Nationals played in San Francisco in April.

Harper is hitting just .229 but he does have 18 homers and 40 RBI. Strickland, a right-hander, has 12 saves and is 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA.

Scherzer takes the mound

Nationals ace Max Scherzer (10-1, 1.95) is slated to pitch Sunday at 4:05 p.m., which is must-see baseball. In his last start at home Tuesday, he struck out 13 batters with no walks and recorded his second immaculate inning as he fanned the side on nine pitches in the sixth.

Throw in the fact that the Giants could start lefty Madison Bumgarner on Sunday. He made his first start of the season on Tuesday and went six innings and picked up the loss as he gave up two runs and eight hits to Arizona. He was injured during spring training.

But the Giants may want to give Bumgarner an extra day of rest. The team’s website on Thursday listed Derek Holland as the starting pitcher Sunday, with Andrew Suarez going Friday and Dereck Rodriguez on Saturday. Rodriguez is the son of Hall of Fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who spent a small part of his career with the Nationals in 2010-11.

The other starters for the series for Washington are Stephen Strasburg (6-5, 3.20) on Friday and Gio Gonzalez (6-2, 2.27) on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. The Nationals play earlier than normal on Saturday and later than normal on Sunday since their annual charity ball is Saturday night.

Possible return of Eaton

Eaton has been on the disabled list since April 11 with a left ankle bone bruise. He has played in minor league rehab games in the past week with Double-A Harrisburg and the Single-A Potomac Nationals.

He is hitting .143 in 14 at-bats with Potomac after going 0-for-4 on Wednesday against the Frederick Keys as the leadoff designated hitter in a 6-1 win at home. The starter for the Keys was lefty Alex Wells, one of the top prospects with the Orioles.

Eaton is eligible to return Friday and when he does the Nationals have a few options in the outfield.

Eaton can play left and center, which means he could split time with regular center fielder Michael A. Taylor, hitting .215, and rookie left fielder Juan Soto, 19, who is batting .346 in 16 games.

Or Eaton could become the regular left fielder and let Soto and Taylor rotate time in center. Or Eaton could take over in center for Taylor.

Or Eaton could be the everyday left fielder and send Soto back to the minors. Don’t bet on that – Soto is batting .110 points higher than the team average of .236. His slugging mark of .538 is .135 better than the team.

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