Brandon Morrow takes the mound for Toronto, and scoring runs against the 27-year-old right-hander has proven problematic. He leads the Major Leagues with three shutouts, including a two-hitter on Wednesday against the White Sox.
Morrow almost completely ditched his changeup and curveball against Chicago, to great effect.
"It was all fastball-slider," he said afterward. "I threw a few changeups to the left-handers to keep them honest, but when I have fastball command down to both sides of the plate, that's when I've been at my best, and I had that tonight."
When Morrow has been on, he's been almost unhittable. Over his past nine starts, he has a 0.52 ERA in the seven games he has won.
While Morrow is taking on the Nationals for the first time, Washington starter Edwin Jackson is no stranger to the Blue Jays. Now pitching for his seventh team, the righty has thrown more career innings against Toronto (85) than any other team. He is 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA in 14 games, including 13 starts.
But 10 of those games came before 2009. Current Blue Jays only have 61 total plate appearances against Jackson.
While Jackson has not tossed any shutouts this season, he has reeled off four consecutive quality starts, with a 2.20 ERA in that span. He beat the Mets on Wednesday, giving up two earned runs on three hits in seven innings.
"He's been outstanding," Washington manager Davey Johnson said after the New York game. "He and [Jordan Zimmermann] really haven't had a lot of run support. Jackson has just been exceptional at times. He had probably a little bit of a reputation coming in, that he threw a lot of pitches, he was a little bit wild. But of the starters, he's been as sharp as any of them. His walk total is way down, and his stuff is exceptional."
Nationals: A limited absence
Blue Jays fans should get their first look at Bryce Harper on Monday after the 19-year-old outfielder was held out of the starting lineup on Sunday with lower back tightness.
Johnson called the issue "mostly muscular" and said Harper likely would return after the one-game breather. Bench coach Randy Knorr and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz informed Johnson about the injury, which seemed to surface on Thursday.
Harper drew a pinch-hit walk in the ninth inning on Sunday, then scored on a double before staying in the game to play right field.
The Nats' sweep of the Red Sox over the weekend not only increased their NL East lead to two games over the Braves, but also pushed them to 35-23. The last time Washington reached 12 games over .500 was in July 2005.
Blue Jays: Bats find a spark
Toronto had scored a combined eight runs while losing three straight games, but broke through with a six-run in a 12-4 victory against the Braves on Sunday.
The Blue Jays start a six-game homestand at Rogers Centre, where they are averaging 5.3 runs per game and are 16-12.
Manager John Farrell said the most important thing is for his players to maintain a consistent approach, but he also expressed openness to trying some small ball.
"There have been times where if we've been unable to get anything going in the first three or four innings of the game, that's where we look to hit and run a little bit to try and create a little action on the basepaths," Farrell said Sunday. "It might hone the focus at the plate a little bit to know you're looking to execute that given pitch, rather than maybe come out of your swing a little bit, get a little bit too big at times."
The Blue Jays have won nine of 15 games against the Nationals since the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal, leaving Toronto as Canada's only team.
This game could provide the first matchup between Jackson and Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus since the two were involved in what amounted to a three-team trade last July. That deal sent Jackson from the White Sox to the Blue Jays, then on to the Cardinals, with Rasmus headed from St. Louis to Toronto. Rasmus is 6-for-10 in his career against Jackson, with a double, two triples and a home run.
Rick Ankiel, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady are the only Nationals to have batted against Morrow. They are a combined 2-for-8, with LaRoche having both hits, including a home run.